The Importance of Pre-Kindergarten in Texas

In 2011, education in Texas took a massive hit when the Texas Legislature cut over $5 billion from formula funding and educational grant programs (Villanueva). More specifically, funding for the Pre-Kindergarten Early Start Grant Program in Texas was reduced by $208 million, totaling $300 million in cuts to Pre-K (Sanborn et al., pg. 20). According to the Texas Education Agency, there are multiple requirements to be eligible for state Pre-K programs. To be eligible, a child must qualify for free or reduced lunch, be homeless, be in foster care, have an active duty military parent, have a parent that was killed or injured during active military duty or be unable to speak or comprehend English (Sanborn et al., pg. 16). My research investigates the relationship, if any, between Pre-K attendance and STAAR Reading scores, and addresses the negative impact that state funding cuts to Pre-K programs might have on the children who utilize these programs.

My research contains data from 27 independent school districts of various sizes throughout Texas. My focus was on determining if public Pre-K attendance had an effect on STAAR Reading scores, and finding evidence to prove that Pre-K funding cuts would negatively impact children in Texas. To be consistent, I only looked at districts who had a percentage of economically disadvantaged children that is significantly greater than the state average of 60.9%. All of the school districts that I looked at had a percentage of economically disadvantaged children greater than 75%. I used the TEA database to search the number of children who attended Pre-K during the 2011–2012 school year for each district, and divided it by the total number of children in 3rd grade during the 2015–2016 school year for each district. This gave me each school district’s approximate public Pre-K attendance percentage for the 2011–2012 school year. The next step in my research was to create a scatter plot to determine if there is a relationship between a district’s 2011–2012 public Pre-K attendance and a district’s 2015–2016 3rd grade STAAR Reading scores.

Source: Texas Educational Agency. https://rptsvr1.tea.texas.gov/perfreport/aeis/2012/district.srch.html and https://rptsvr1.tea.texas.gov/perfreport/tapr/2016/srch.html?srch=D
Source: Texas Educational Agency. https://rptsvr1.tea.texas.gov/perfreport/aeis/2012/district.srch.html and https://rptsvr1.tea.texas.gov/perfreport/tapr/2016/srch.html?srch=D

The scatterplot illustrates that there is a strong positive relationship (r=.66) between a school district’s public Pre-K attendance and their STAAR Reading scores. It is clear that Pre-K in Texas significantly helps economically disadvantaged children

The National Institute for Early Education Research (N.I.E.E.R.) evaluates state Pre-Kindergarten programs in the United Sates. Texas is known to have low quality Pre-Kindergarten, as they regularly meet two of the ten benchmarks created by N.I.E.E.R. to judge state programs.

Source: National Institute for Early Education Research. 2015. http://nieer.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Texas_2015_rev1.pdf

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Texas has five of the nation’s fastest-growing cities (Baddour).With a population that is steadily increasing, it’s logical to think that funding for education programs should be increasing as well. Unfortunately, the 2011 cuts to public education was a step backwards. Pre-K was a major policy area for Governor Abbott, and House Bill 4 was adopted in 2015 as a result. H.B. 4 appropriated $118 million to high quality Pre-K programs, which is significantly less than 2009’s $208 million grant. In order to receive high quality Pre-K grants, districts must meet the requirements set by H.B. 4. Due to the large number of school districts that were eligible for funding, H.B. 4 has not met its goal of providing $1500 in funding per student. Instead, the 2016–2017 school year will see $734 per student, which is just below 50% of the $1,500 goal (Texans Care For Children, pg. 8). This is significantly lower than what H.B. 4 envisioned, and the lack of funding makes it hard for school districts to improve their quality of Pre-K. Children who come from an economically disadvantaged background do not have access to the same resources that other children do. If public Pre-K in Texas is low quality and underfunded, it will not be able to compete with the many private Pre-K programs children attend. Economically disadvantaged children who attend a low quality public Pre-K would be in danger of falling behind children who had better resources prior to beginning elementary school. Legislators should focus on increasing funding for public Pre-K, so school districts can have access to the resources necessary to meet the N.I.E.E.R. guidelines for a quality Pre-K.

Public Pre-K gives Texas children an educational foundation, and prepares them for STAAR tests in elementary school. If Texas wants the quality of their Pre-K to improve, they need to provide school districts with sufficient funding consistently. H.B. 4 is a step in the right direction, but school districts need consistency with grants so they can invest in Pre-K long term. If the amount of money appropriated to Pre-K education continues to fluctuate, school districts will not be committed to the future because they are unsure if the funding will be there in the upcoming years. The uncertainty of funding could stunt the growth and improvement of public Pre-K in Texas, and could possibly be detrimental to the future of economically disadvantaged Texas children.

Works Cited

Villanueva, Chandra King. “Texas Pre-K, Looking Ahead to the 2017 Legislative Session”. Center for Public Policy Priorities, July 2016 http://forabettertexas.org/images/EO_2016_PP_PreK.pdf

Sanborn, Robert et al. Pre-K In Texas: A Critical Component for Academic Success. Print.

Texas Educational Agency. 2011–2012 District AEIS Report. https://rptsvr1.tea.texas.gov/perfreport/aeis/2012/district.srch.html

Texas Educational Agency. 2015–2016 Texas Academic Performance Report. https://rptsvr1.tea.texas.gov/perfreport/tapr/2016/srch.html?srch=D

Texans Care for Children. Ensuring the Success of HB 4 & Texas Students. 2016. Print.

Baddour, Dylan. “Texas booming popular growth explained” The Houston Chronicle 20 May 2016 http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/explainer/article/Texas-population-growth-explained-7865877.php

National Institute for Early Education Research (N.I.E.E.R.). “State of Preschool Yearbooks: Texas”. 2015. http://nieer.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Texas_2015_rev1.pdf

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