On September 30, 2014, the non-profit Children At Risk, is releasing its new report, The State of Pre-K: Realities and Opportunities in Texas,
an assessment of access to pre-kindergarten and the challenges Texas school
districts face in trying to provide quality pre-kindergarten programs. The
report's findings are relevant for other states, also.
The report's key findings demonstrate that while school districts are making prekindergarten education a priority, there are hurdles that are difficult to overcome without further financial support and quality standards from the State. The report notes that research shows higher quality prekindergarten---including small classes and full-day programs---produces higher returns on taxpayer investment. It then concludes that "it is essential for Texas to support districts in funding a prekindergarten program and ensure those programs include quality components" in order to realize these higher returns.
In 2011, the Texas Legislature made historic cuts to the public education budget totaling $5.4 billion. In 2012-13, Children At Risk conducted a study to assess the impact on students and classrooms across the state. This research, "Doing More with Less? Public Education in a New Fiscal Reality," found that some districts were forced to eliminate full-day prekindergarten.
The current study used a mixed methods approach focused on assessing the current public prekindergarten program offerings in Texas. In addition to surveying more than 1,000 Texas school districts, Children At Risk conducted qualitative research and provided case studies on districts that go beyond state mandates, in order to identify successful implementation, funding, and partnership strategies that can be used to increase participation. The study also examined Texas policies and statutes and those in other states related to pre-kindergarten guidelines and funding.
Due to the lack of publicly available state data on prekindergarten education, the study said, objective information about this critical program was lacking. The response to the survey was significant, with participating school districts representing 73% of the student population. Analysis of survey data and supplementary research yielded several key findings, from which Children At Risk generated recommendations for the next session of the Texas Legislature in 2015.
Children At Risk explains that the report is "designed with the intent to serve as a toolbox for communities, school districts, and policy makers," outlining the current state of pre-kindergarten in Texas and including policy recommendations for the upcoming Legislative Session on the best practices for maximizing existing public and private resources and expanding support for pre-kindergarten.
The report makes three broad policy recommendations to the State for "maximizing the return on investment for prekindergarten education and ultimately providing a stronger academic start for Texas children." The State should:
- create incentives for school districts to offer full-day prekindergarten
by providing additional funding through the school funding formula or by
establishing a sustainable grant program;
- expand funding to school districts that limit class size and/or
staff-to-student ratios by requiring new funding for prekindergarten to be
contingent upon the implementation of a maximum class size of 20 and/or a
staff-to-student ratio of 1:10; and,
- ensure transparency of prekindergarten program quality by increasing
data available to the public and policy makers about prekindergarten programs
managed by school districts in Texas.
As background, the report points out certain Texas challenges in meeting
the needs of a growing and diverse student population. "In the 2012-2013 school year, public school enrollment topped five million after growing by more than 19% over the last decade," the report states. "Over
that same period, the number of students identified as English language learners
increased by 37% and the number of economically disadvantaged students increased
by 39%. Currently, 60% of Texas students are economically disadvantaged and
17% of Texas students are English language learners."
While focused primarily on Texas, this report offers insights on preschool
for advocates, researchers, and policy makers in other states.
See, also, The State of
Preschool Texas 2013, in which the Texas preschool
program meets a very low two out of ten quality standards in the latest annual
report from NIEER (National
Institute for Early Education Research).