Pre-K Funding Should Reflect a Meaningful Commitment to Quality

April 8, 2015 |

This week, the Texas House is poised to consider House Bill 4, a bill intended to raise the level of quality and funding for Texas pre-kindergarten programs.

High-quality pre-k has the potential to bring equity to early learning and close achievement gaps in elementary school and beyond, but only if we have the courage to do it right.

Quality Requires Adequate Funding

Any pre-k legislation that seeks to achieve meaningful gains in early childhood education must require key quality program elements and provide adequate funding to implement those elements, including formula-generated funding for full-day programs.

The focus of this blog is the essential funding elements. Read our companion blog about key quality features here.

Fund Pre-K Like a Priority

Current HB 4 budget plans include $100 million that would be distributed to pre-k programs around the state for doing little or nothing to increase quality beyond where it stands today.

While $100 million sounds like a lot of money, it is less than half of the Pre-K Early Start Grant funding the legislature completely defunded in 2011, and it is far less than what states with effective pre-k programs spend.

Given the undisputed evidence of potential gains and successful examples of pre-k programs nationwide, Texas should not hesitate to appropriately fund programs that meet the highest level of quality in a 6-hour day with full-day formula-generated funding, not grants that are volatile and unreliable.

Grants must be reauthorized and renegotiated every session, leaving districts with an unreliable and volatile funding stream, disallowing them to fully commit to the kinds of long-term quality implementation strategies research says are imperative to transforming pre-k programs into early learning environments that will lead to sustained achievement gains.

Formula Funding Versus Grant Funding: Why It Matters

pre-k fundingFormula-generated funding and grants are two totally different ways to fund a program. Grants target a specific amount of funding to a specific initiative, and the Commissioner of Education determines the award amount. Funding must be appropriated for these grants each session.

By contrast, the state’s school funding formulas, as defined in statute, are designed to generate the amount of funding a needed to educate a given student, based on the unique characteristics of the student and district. Formula funding is included in the base budget bill at the beginning of each session, and as such is a more stable long-term source of funding. Legislation can cap total formula-generated or grant funding, but only a grant can dictate a per-pupil spending amount, like $1,000 or $1,500 per student.

Target Funding to Quality

Because the standards currently required of pre-k programs to be eligible for additional funding under HB 4 are easily attained, the reality is that, regardless of local effort–whether district programs are low-quality or high-quality, half-day or full-day– they will receive funding if the very minimal requirements of the bill are met.

The result will be to spread small amounts of funding broadly across the state instead of focusing funding on meaningful investments in high-quality pre-k. Providing funds and requiring little in return hardly seems to be a fiscally conservative approach to attaining high-quality pre-k for our children.

Instead, funding and a focus on quality should be proportionate. The results will be increased achievement, and a wiser investment of taxpayer dollars.

Go Big or Go Home

Instead of a half-hearted approach to pre-k quality, let’s do it right this time.

Even if it is implemented incrementally over time, the state should require the quality elements we know work, and fund districts at a level where they can actually implement them.

This is the only way we can achieve truly meaningful results down the road and level the educational playing field. Our students need and deserve the best from our schools so every child may prosper and provide us all with a better Texas ahead.

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