AUSTIN (KXAN) — Withstanding an unforeseen political catastrophe out of left field, state lawmakers are on track to pump millions of dollars more into the school finance system and help pay for full-day pre-kindergarten programs across the state.
The $9 billion House Bill 3 already passed the House. The Senate last week made changes and passed their version. However, both chambers agree on additional money for Pre-K and the move to full-day.
Other aspects of HB 3 are still up for debate: whether to tie money to performance metrics and whether to require a $5,000 teacher pay raise.
This comes after years of experts touting the effectiveness and the necessity of Pre-K. Governor Greg Abbott made it a priority for him during his first legislative session, but it’s been a fight to keep additional funding for higher performance in the past few years.
The tone changed after the 2018 election. Gov. Abbott, Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick support sending an unprecedented amount of money into the state’s public school finance system.
With three little ones, Michelle Tate has done what thousands of moms do: spend hours and hours thinking about the best option for PreK and what their family can do.
“As a parent, I feel like early education is essential,” said Tate.
She’s a writer for the Austin Mom’s Blog and says usually the largest hurdle for parents to get their kids into Pre-K, is money.
“From my friend group and my mom tribe as I like to call them. The ones that aren’t able to do preschool it’s not by choice. It’s because they financially can’t make it happen,” said Tate.
“It’s great that the state is really coming around this issue about early learning,” said Ami Cortes Castillo, Early Childhood Director at the Austin Independent School District.
AISD has nearly 5,000 students in Pre-K – full day for four-year-olds, mostly half day for three-year-olds – with around 400 families paying tuition to attend.
Cortes Castillo says the benefits are proven, especially when it comes to getting students ahead in reading.
With extra help from the state, AISD could expand access, improve quality, and have more financial assistance for families.
“We want to develop them in their oral language. We want to develop some of their basic early math skills. We want them also to learn how to interact with other children,” said Cortes Castillo.
HB 3 is politically and rhetorically connected to SB 2, a property tax reform bill. Most political insiders tell KXAN “something will pass.” The details of which will matter, but non-controversial infra-chamber measures, like Pre-K funding, are likely to survive.