Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature high-quality prekindergarten grant program is on even shakier ground after members of a Senate committee indicated on Wednesday that they will be joining the House in proposing eliminating the program.
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee recommended stripping funding for the program, Abbott’s hallmark legislation two years ago. The program doled out $118 million over the last two years and Abbott wanted $236 million for 2018 and 2019. About half of the school districts in Texas received the grant program money on the condition that they implement high-quality standards, such as family engagement, reporting more data to the state and requiring teachers have an additional credential.
It appears that Senate budget writers are trying to cut costs to free up money for other issues including boosting $290 million to the Teacher Retirement System health benefits program, which is facing a shortfall.
“It’s incomprehensible that the Senate is jeopardizing the future of Texas students by depriving them of high quality pre-K, instead forcing them into an unaccountable program,” said Abbott’s spokesman John Wittman.
The House last month proposed gutting Abbott’s pre-K grant program and putting the money in supplemental pre-K funding, which would go to all school districts that offer pre-K. House officials said that they wanted to offer flexibility to school districts on how to use the money.
House and Senate budget proposals would still fund half-day pre-K based on projected enrollment growth over the next two years.
The Senate’s latest version of the budget for public education also would eliminate supplemental pre-K funding and instead put the money in a $40 million “Prekindergarten Public-Private Partnerships Program.” The program is intended to improve the quality of pre-K through “kindergarten readiness tools, developmental tools, rubrics, and best practice guides.”
Officials from school districts experiencing rapid enrollment growth are also upset with the Senate’s proposal to cut all money — $47.5 million over two years — that was given to such districts to help with the start up costs of opening a new school.
The new instructional facilities allotment was established in 1999 but defunded in 2011 and reinstated in 2015.
“The Texas Senate is shortchanging Texas public schools and charter schools with draconian cuts to state funding for facilities. Schools that shoulder the tremendous growth and influx of new students are hit especially hard as they try to make do with their already lean local budgets,” said Guy Sconzo, Executive Director of the Fast Growth School Coalition.
The Dripping Springs school district would lose $370,000; Hays $190,000; Hutto $170,000; and Leander $260,000, district officials have reported to the coalition.