Senate Committee Approves Governor’s Pre-K Plan, But Questions Linger

HB 4, the bill embodying the governor’s plan to add up to $130 million for pre-K programs that meet new quality standards, won quick passage in the Senate Education Committee Thursday, but some new issues surfaced in a hearing on the bill. HB 4 has been touted as an addition to formula funding that school districts could count on. But testimony from the Texas Education Agency established that it is actually a grant program, with funding dependent on biennial spending decisions by the legislature. TEA’s testimony also established that the added pre-K funding at best would be half as much as previously thought–$750 per pupil rather than $1,500. Questions were also raised about the cost to school districts of certain training requirements, which may well be modified as the bill progresses. But progress it did, by a vote of 9 to 2, with Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) and Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) casting the two nay votes.
Texas AFT testified “on” the bill, calling for “HB 4 and more.” Texas AFT legislative counsel Patty Quinzi noted that “key elements of high-quality prekindergarten include: full-day instruction; small classes and low student-to-staff ratios; and teachers and educational aides with specific training in early-childhood education.” Full-day instruction and smaller class sizes are not required in HB 4. Quinzi also spoke to the adequacy of funding in the bill:
The House-passed version of HB 4 calls for $130 million in funding for the biennium. While that amount is a good start, it falls short of the $208 million that funded pre-kindergarten expansion grants in the 2010-2011 biennium. HB 4 makes a step in the right direction by restoring some of these funds, but in the last five years the number of eligible students has only grown. The state has a long way to go just to get back where we were in 2010, but the legislature has the available funds to make this vital investment now. We are glad that House members at least included an amendment in HB 4 that leaves the door open for a higher amount to be provided in the appropriations bill.

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