Could a Bill for Full-Day Pre-K in Texas Benefit Latinos, English Learners, and the State Economy? UnidosUS Has the Data.

UnidosUS is hoping the Texas State Legislature will pass a bill funding full-day Pre-K education, which can lead to greater student achievement and a stronger economy. Photo from UnidosUS Archives.

Author Tania Valencia is UnidosUS’s K-12 Education Policy Analyst

From housing and economic development to education, health and wellness, UnidosUS Affiliates work on a wide range of issues that give Latinos the support they need to grow their futures and help build a more just and prosperous American society. They also work on education, and the trend lately has been to bolster it at the pre-K level, believing it can close student achievement gaps from the get go. For example, the childcare facility at Project Vida, a new UnidosUS Affiliate Project Vida in El Paso, helps kids up to age five learn basic science, math, and literacy skills before they head to kindergarten.

UnidosUS believes programs like this could radically transform the state’s economy if the Texas legislature were funding full-day Pre-K, rather than the current practice of providing half-day funds and leaving districts to offset costs. By the end of the legislative session in May, Texas Senate Conference Committee members will have voted on whether to adopt a provision in the House’s school finance bill (HB 3) that would do just that. Under the provisions of HB 3, districts would be required to provide full-day Pre-K classes for eligible students who were at least age four. Districts could also provide half day Pre-K classes for eligible students under age four.

All Pre-K programs will need to comply with high-quality standards determined by the state. Currently, the Texas House included funding for full day Pre-K classes for eligible students under age four. It is expected that conference committee members will be announced in the upcoming weeks and for any chance of passing a school finance bill that creates a full day Pre-K program, the Senate will need to adopt the House’s language Pre-K provisions.

“Well established research has shown that children, especially those from tougher circumstances, who get higher quality education earlier are more likely to finish high school, go to college, and end up making more money over the course of their lifetime,” says UnidosUS Texas Strategist Manuel Grajeda.

A 2007 study by the Intercultural Development Research Association showed that 67% percent of children of low-income families who were enrolled in pre-K education were ready for kindergarten by the age of 5, compared to 28% of those who weren’t enrolled. They also graduated high school at a rate of 77%, compared to 60% among the non-pre-K students. And the study showed that this success continued for decades, with 76% of the former pre-K students employed at age 40, compared to 62% of those who never went to preschool.

This graph from the Intercultural Development Research Association shows the longterm academic and professional impact of pre-K enrollment.

Both Latinos and Texas Would Benefit from Full-Day Pre-K

Despite these clear benefits, in 2016, the U.S. Department of Education found that Latinos have the nation’s lowest enrollment in early childhood education programs. Those rates were 49.5% for Latino three-to-four-year-olds, compares to 55.5% of their White peers. As these children continue to grow, the face of our nation’s public schools will also change. It is estimated that by 2027, nearly 30% of public K-12 schools will be Latino students.

UnidosUS knows there is a narrow window for pushing a bill by May because the next legislative session would be 2021.

“Two years is too late for the children who will lose out on not having the developmental benefits of full day Pre-K,” says Amalia Chamorro, UnidosUS’s Associate Director for the Education Policy Project.

Investments in Pre-K reduce the need for special education, lower crime rates, and decrease participation in public programs

According to a 2015 policy briefing from the Child & Family Research Partnership, Texas has saved an estimated $142 million annually due to fewer students who participated in Pre-K needing special education services or having to repeat a grade.For nearly 35 years, Texas has offered a state-supported Pre-K program which provides a half-day of educational instruction. Research has shown positive results from the state-supported Pre-K program. A 2006 study conducted by Texas A&M University showed that for every dollar invested in Pre-K the state saves $3.50 through the reduced need for remedial or special education, lower crime rates, and decreases in participation in public programs.Half-day Pre-K is available only in Texas school districts which have identified at least 15 children who are four-years old and are either economically disadvantaged, homeless, have limited English proficiency, are in the foster care system, or have a parent who is active-duty military or died during military service.

Working class families were significantly impacted in 2011 when the Texas Legislature cut $4 billion from formula funding and $1.3 billion from educational grant programs outside of formula funding, further limiting Pre-K programs. In 2017, Texas eliminated $118 million grant for High Quality Pre-K and $30 million in supplemental Pre-K funding from the two-year budget. The Center for Public Policy Priorities found that about 72 percent of school districts offering Pre-K are subsidizing full-day Pre-K for their students, and despite local efforts, only about 54% of Texan children are enrolled in a full-day program.

In contrast, a  February policy brief from the Education Commission of the States, noted that during 2017-18, 28 states increasedfunding levels for Pre-K programs.

“We want to work on reducing poverty and have our kids achieving more? Then we need to make sure that children are prepared for their early years of education,” says Grajeda.

A survey of school districts conducted by advocacy group Children at Risk found that 15% of respondents, representing more than 900 Pre-K students, had reduced their Pre-K offering from full day to half day as a result of the budget cuts.

“We can continue the vicious cycle of poverty and further widen the wage gap for working families or we can give them a fair shake,” says Grajeda, noting that there are thousands of working-class Latino families across Texas that would benefit from full-day Pre-K services, especially English learners.

Latinos and ELs Are a Key Part of the Next Generation

According to the U.S. Department of Education, ELs now account for more than five million students within public schools, making them the fastest-growing student population in the entire country.However, with the cuts in funding to Pre-K come challenges in ensuring that Latino students and English learners have high-quality educators in their classrooms.

“Most teachers will encounter an EL in their classrooms at some point in their careers,” says Chamorro. Texas is one of only three states requiring lead teachers to have a bilingual certification to teaching preschool ELs. “It is crucial that Texas not only expand full day Pre-K, but that it also ensures a quality early education for English learners,” says Chamorro.

UnidosUS is urging Texas conference committee members of the Texas Senate to adopt the provision in the House’s public school finance bill (HB 3) to fund full day Pre-K. It is urging Texas residents to support full day Pre-K for all Texan children by contacting their representatives, who can be identified and reached through this state government form.





You might also be interested in:

By Leticia Bustillos, PhD, Associate Director, Education Policy Project, NCLR My daughter’s first day in child care was perhaps one of the most difficult days I ever faced as a […]

(This was first posted to the Child Care Aware of America blog, Early Directions.) By Lynette M. Fraga, PH.D. I recently spoke with NCLR about their perspective on child care and […]