As the Texas 86th Legislative Session draws near, local school proponents are hoping to renew a conversation about whether the state might provide more funding for prekindergarten programs.
The Galveston County Schools Consortium, which is made up of representatives from county school districts, listed funding for full-day prekindergarten programs for all students regardless of eligibility requirements as one of its legislative priorities.
“While our district chooses to make early education a priority, we firmly believe that the state of Texas should be funding ours and all pre-K programs in the state,” said Susan Myers, deputy superintendent with Texas City Independent School District.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made improving prekindergarten education a priority starting in 2015 and, with the passage of House Bill 4 that year, added $118 million in extra grant funds each year for 578 school districts.
But the 2017 legislative budget kept House Bill 4’s extra requirements for the programs, but didn’t renew the grant funding, despite Abbott’s request to increase the amount.
It’s hard to tell exactly what legislators are thinking ahead of the upcoming session, but state officials are having a lot of conversations about funding for early childhood programs, said Stephanie Rubin, the chief operating officer at Texans Care for Children, an advocacy group.
“Whether you look at the commission’s report or at the State Board of Education’s recent vote recommending funding for full-day pre-K, there is clearly momentum for full-day pre-K next session,” Rubin said.
That would be a welcome development, local educators said.
“It would allow school districts to better utilize local resources and still provide the necessary enrichment for students that qualify because of family income,” said Kelli Moulton, superintendent at Galveston Independent School District.
The state funds half-day prekindergarten programs for students that qualify, leaving districts wanting to offer full-time prekindergarten programs to find other ways to raise the money.
But, while the extra funding would be good, some districts, such as Dickinson, would be under new constraints.
“The biggest dilemma for Dickinson Independent School District should the state approve funding for full-day prekindergarten is space,” Superintendent Carla Voelkel said. “At this time, our district does not have the space available at our elementary campuses to double the number of prekindergarten classrooms.”
Dickinson’s population is growing between 200 to 400 students each year, or a total of about 3,000 more students in 10 years, Voelkel said.
Despite potential pitfalls, school districts across Galveston County and the state are endorsing the possibility of expanded access to the programs.
“If funding were made available — if every child were eligible and chose GISD — there would be necessary adjustment for staffing and classroom space,” Moulton said. “Although a challenge, it would not be prohibitive.”
The Texas State Board of Education in November also endorsed a plan for legislators to fund full-day prekindergarten, records show.
The session begins Jan. 8.