Study finds more parents enrolling children in Pre-K

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new study on early education finds more parents are enrolling their children in Pre-K. The report from the National Institute for Early Education Research breaks down enrollment and funding by state.

In the last two years here in Texas, there’s been no change in enrollment, but there has been a slight increase in funding. That funding could increase next school year.

State lawmakers are still working to give public schools an extra $130 million.  The money would be used to improving existing Pre-K programs. House members will now have to look over the Senate version and come to an agreement before sending the bill to the governor’s desk.

Early education a top priority

At the very top of Gov. Greg Abbott’s list of priorities: Early education is No. 1. During his State of the State address, Abbott’s first emergency item dealt with pre-K education – something he said many Democrats were carrying. He said it’s important to make sure Texas students are performing at grade level at both reading and math by the third grade, and to do that, he says the budget gives additional funding to schools with high-quality  Pre-K programs.

“To begin the process of improving our schools and advancing our students, we must improve early education,” said Abbott. “That’s why I am declaring early education as my first emergency item as governor.”

More child advocates say pre-K is the first step in getting the best education. Because Abbott agrees, he has made pre-K funding a priority this legislative session. The House Committee on Public Education laid out and heard testimony in mid-March as part of Pre-K Day, where several bills were on the table.

“Pre-K is so much more than it used to be,” said Jacquie Porter, with Austin Independent School District.

She says the state pays for half-day pre-K for 92 percent of the district’s kids: low-income, military families, homeless, English-learning and foster families. Austin taxpayers pick up the rest of the tab for full-day. Porter says it’s worth it.

“It’s all about problem-solving skills,” she said, “It’s teaching them social-emotional development.”

If passed, several bills would reward districts for meeting higher standards.

“It’s about time that we’ve decided as a state that pre-K a priority,” said Porter.

More money is coming, the only question now is how much. Two major bills would each put more money into the pre-K system if districts meet those higher standards.

House Bill 4 would add $1,500 per student more for half day pre-K, totaling $118 million. House Bill 1100 would double the current amount per student, adding another $3,650 for full day pre-K, pumping $300 million tax dollars into pre-K.

Some child care activists say this upgraded pre-K program should not be optional and these bills don’t go far enough. Texans Care for Children says this is a step in the right direction but doesn’t match what lawmakers cut from Pre-K in 2011.

Fully funded pre-K for all children in the state may seem far-off, but it is already happening in Georgia. The program is funded by the state lottery and are offered through both private providers and local public schools. In the last school year, Georgia spent $312 million on the program for 84,000 students.

The Texas Education Agency says a full-day program in Texas would cost $4.6 billion, but it counts eligible 3- and 4-year-olds – bringing the total number of students to 777,000.

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