By CHILDREN AT RISK

This month, CHILDREN AT RISK is excited to release “The State of Pre-K: Realities and Opportunities in Texas,” a report on the current state of public pre-kindergarten programs in Texas and policy recommendations for maximizing their return on investment. The goal of this study was to provide essential information for policymakers, school districts, and community organizations to make informed policy decisions about pre-kindergarten education for our state’s youngest learners. This study is a collaborative project between the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium, the Meadows Foundation and CHILDREN AT RISK, and is a follow-up to a previous CHILDREN AT RISK study commissioned by the Consortium on how $5.4 billion in cuts to public education impacted Texas schools, and in particular pre-k, after the 2011 Legislative Session.

The Pre-k study is an especially important contribution considering the lack of publicly available state data on pre-kindergarten programs. Texas enrolls 225,000 kids in pre-kindergarten –more than any other state in the country- and it is essential to track the characteristics and outcomes of these programs. The main components of the study included a statewide survey of all traditional school districts, in-depth case studies on expanded pre-kindergarten programs in select districts, and research on policies in Texas and other key states.

Several key findings came out of the information gathered, the details of which can be found in the full report :

  • Many school districts are already going above and beyond minimum state mandates to ensure that students receive pre-kindergarten education.
  • School districts want full-day pre-kindergarten, but adequate funding is a challenge.
  • School districts are investing in smaller class sizes and optimal staff-to-student ratios without a state mandate or state funding.

A lack of funding was found to be a large roadblock for children in Texas, as 73% of responding districts reported inadequate funding as a barrier to pre-kindergarten expansion. The Texas Legislature made historic cuts to public education budgets in 2011, including grant funds for pre-kindergarten.

During the last legislative session in 2013, the Legislature restored just $30 million of the more than $200 million that was cut from pre-kindergarten grant programs. As a result, many school districts are digging deep into general operating funds or cobbling together federal grants and other funding sources to continue offering these programs.

Research shows that high quality pre-kindergarten, which includes small classes and full-day programs, produces higher returns on taxpayer money. Pre-kindergarten not only prepares children to succeed in elementary school, but also contributes to success later in life. It is important for Texas to support the work done by our local school districts in funding high quality pre-kindergarten programs.

“The State of Pre-K: Realities and Opportunities in Texas” was funded by The Meadows Foundation in support of TEGAC initiatives. For the full report, please visit www.childrenatrisk.org .