If a mechanic told you she could make your car perform better, you would probably want more details before she started rearranging wires under your hood. Well, after the Texas Legislature passed the High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant Program (HB 4) this spring, many of us applauded the law as a good first step. Now it’s details time.
On December 1 the Texas Education Agency will hold a hearing to discuss details of how to make the new Pre-K grant program policies in HB 4 a reality. The outcome of this rulemaking process will be key to determining how effective the Pre-K law will be at the end of the day.
We applaud Governor Abbott for declaring Pre-K an emergency item and Representative Dan Huberty for his leadership on the passage of HB 4.
As a reminder, HB 4 requires the Commissioner of Education to establish a high-quality grant program, while leaving a wide degree of flexibility to define quality and grant amounts. In defining a high-quality Pre-K program, the Center for Public Policy Priorities recommends the Commissioner include criteria for a full-day program, nationally recognized class-size limits and ratios, and effective discipline policies. The grant program should also be structured in a way that a district can predict the amount of grant support from year to year.
Let’s look closer at each of CPPP’s recommendations:
A Full-Day Program:
The more exposure a child has to educational instruction, the greater the educational gains will be. For children who are significantly behind, exposure to high-quality Pre-K for extended periods is crucial for closing achievement gaps. The TEA Commissioner should include a full-day program in the criteria for a high-quality program.
Class-size Limits and Staff-Child Ratios:
Texas ranks at the bottom in quality standards measures compared to 53 other programs in 40 states and the District of Columbia. And Texas has no cap on the number of Pre-K students in a class or on the number of students for each staff person. The TEA Commissioner should include nationally recognized class-size limits and staff-child ratios in the criteria for a high-quality program.
Effective Discipline Policies:
One of the primary goals of Pre-K programs is to develop social and emotional skills among children. The use of exclusionary discipline policies such as in-school and out-of-school suspension in early grades runs counter to this goal and illustrates the need for support and training on research-based alternatives. The TEA Commissioner should require, as part of the criteria for a high-quality program, a written policy, available to parents, that limits the use of in- and out-of-school suspensions and specifies under what circumstances exclusionary practices are appropriate.
In order to implement and sustain a high-quality Pre-K program, districts need a reliable and stable funding source. Variable grant amounts make it difficult to prepare for the future and set districts up for failure when funding runs out or decreases significantly. The TEA Commissioner should set the grant amount at the $1,500 per student maximum to better assist districts in implementing a high-quality program.
To read CPPP’s full list of recommendations and details, click here.