A bill backed by Gov. Greg Abbott to make a modest increase in the state’s investment in pre-K passed in the Texas House by a wide margin on April 9, 128 to 17. The bill, HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Humble), would add $100 million to the $30 million for pre-K already in the House version of the budget. But that would still be less than the $200 million per budget cycle that the state was investing before the severe funding cuts of 2011.
Another difference: Up until 2011, the pre-K money was for grants to expand pre-K to a full day. Under HB 4, full-day expansion is not the goal. Instead the dollars will flow on a per-pupil basis to all pre-K programs that meet new state-set standards for program quality. Based on projections of participation in the program cited by Rep. Huberty, the amount of funding added per pupil would be under $700 per child—far below the additional funding needed to cover the cost of expansion to full-day pre-K. The bill also does not expand eligibility for pre-K beyond current categories (such as the economically disadvantaged and English Language Learners). Nor does it set a cap on the number of pupils per teacher in each pre-K classroom—a key aim of many pre-K advocates, including Texas AFT.
In spite of the modest scope of this bill, it came under attack on the House floor from a handful of members who called it an expansion of “big government.” Their attacks on the bill were defeated, and their attempt to bar any increase in pre-K funding beyond the $130 million proposed by Rep. Huberty backfired. When Rep. Jody Laubenberg (R-Parker) on April 8 offered that spending cap, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) countered with an amendment to her amendment setting the ceiling at whatever amount ultimately is enacted in the budget for 2016-2017. In other words, Martinez Fischer’s move leaves the advocates of increased pre-K funding free to keep on fighting for that goal throughout the budget-writing process this session. Martinez Fischer’s good amendment prevailed with bipartisan support by a vote of 78 to 66. An upcoming Hotline will give you the official tally of which House members voted pro and con on this key issue.