The Texas Education Agency has asked the federal government for grants to fund an expansion of pre-k programs statewide for moderate and low-income families.
Texas will compete with 35 other states, and Washington, D.C., and is eligible to receive up to $30 million annually over a four-year grant window. The grant expansion is offering a total of $160 million nationwide. The new federal grant would help states that currently serve more than 10 percent of four years olds to build and expand on those programs, which have faced drastic cuts over the years.
In 2011, lawmakers cut $200 million from the state’s Pre-K Early Start Grant program. They restored $30 million last session, but some lawmakers say more is needed.
“If you do year-round Pre-K, kids that are in certain situations will graduate, more kids will graduate,” says State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez of Austin.
Debbie Ratcliffe with the TEA says there’s a strong demand for pre-K program, and that the state needs to take advantage of this opportunity:
“We hope the legislature will look favorably on pre K funding, but there are a lot of demands on state money,” says Ratcliffe.
According to the TEA’s legislative appropriations request for 2016, it did not make preschool funding a priority.
However, Commissioner Michael Williams said in a written statement earlier this week that the agency seeks to bridge gaps in academic performance among students.
““One way to begin closing the achievement gap in Texas is to better prepare children who are entering our public schools,” said Commissioner Williams. “With many high-quality pre-k programs already established in our communities, this federal grant opportunity allows an avenue to enhance and build upon that success.”
David Anthony is with the education advocacy group, Raise Your Hand Texas. He says the applying for federal money is a good first step.
“Certainly the federal funds will dry up and there will not be sufficient amount for implementing, over the course of time, the pre-K program we need,” Anthony says. “But I think it helps set the stage that the commissioner asked for those funds and then we need to continue this discussion and this commitment to pre-kindergarten and it will continue at the state level.”
Pre-school has also been an issue in this year’s gubernatorial race. Republican candidate Attorney General Greg Abbott wants pre-k funding to be tied to academic performance, while Democratic candidate Wendy Davis has called for full-day pre-k. The federal government will decide which states get the money—and how much—by the end of the year.