Funding full-day prekindergarten throughout Texas

ROBYN H. JIMENEZ | 4/17/2017, 3:33 a.m.
Many education specialists have stated that the best start to a good education is an early start, namely a high-quality, ...
Children who attend full-day prekindergarten are more academically successful because they are more likely to stay in school, graduate and go on to college. Stock photo

The Dallas Examiner

Many education specialists have stated that the best start to a good education is an early start, namely a high-quality, full-day prekindergarten program. Because 90 percent of brain development occurs before age 5, children who attend pre-K are 3.5 times more likely to be ready for kindergarten, succeed in school, graduate and go to college, according to Dallas ISD.

However, these opportunities for a good start aren’t open to all students. In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the signing of House Bill 4, which issued a grant for Texas schools to offer funding for full-day pre-K programs to fewer than half of all Texas schools, leaving each city and school district to determine where the programs would be offered.

Currently, full-day pre-K programs in Dallas ISD are tuition-based and offered this year in only five of its 157 elementary schools along U.S. Highway 75, north of Downtown Dallas, as part of a pilot program.

The tuition rate is set at $700 per month. Free tuition is offered to military families, free or reduced lunch participants, ESL students, foster care and homeless children. All other 4-year-olds whose parents cannot afford the tuition can participate in free half-day pre-K.

Early education advocates expressed their concern that the program ignored areas that were primarily low- to moderate-income African American families.

With enrollment in Dallas ISD schools steadily decreasing, the district vowed to expand the pre-K program. This year, the full-day program began enrollment April 3 for the 2017/2018 school year at a lower rate of $525 monthly at 19 district elementary schools – leaving 138 schools out of the program.

In an effort to expand free high quality, full-day pre-K programs, Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed Pre-K Formula Funding – House Bill 2282 in February, to fund a gold standard full-day pre-K program for all schools in qualifying school districts that serve economically disadvantaged children and adopt national best practices for improving educational outcomes – not just in Dallas but throughout Texas.

“I want the state of Texas to increase its funding share of pre-K from one half-day to one full-day. Right now the state pays every district for every child that they enroll in one pre-K enough money to pay for half of it and I want it to pay for all of it,” he said.

Texas law currently only requires districts to offer a half-day pre-K program in areas that have eligible preschoolers that fit the definition of eligibility set by the education code. Johnson stated he wanted to double the amount that each school receives for the program and include schools in all underserved areas to fund the full-day program.

“Mainly because of two reasons,” he explained. “One, full-day works better than half-day in terms of what the kids are able to learn and what can be accomplished. And two, because working families can’t take advantage of half-day pre-K as well as they could take advantage of full-day pre-K because of work.

“The biggest barrier consistently when people are asked why they don’t participate in the pre-K program is that families can’t take off in the middle of the day to pick up their child from a half-day program.”