More ways in which the Lege is abdicating its responsibility to Texas.
Although many experts say these full-day classes are beneficial to children, looming cuts to education funding have put many of these full-day pre-K programs on the chopping block in hundreds of districts across Texas.
As state lawmakers debate how to fix a gaping budget shortfall in the coming weeks, school officials are faced with the difficult choice of trimming their classes to a half day or eliminating other costs.
“There’s no question that the full-day program is extremely beneficial, especially for the population that the full day serves,” said Kara Johnson, who heads the Austin-based Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition.
Funding cuts still being debated in the Legislature don’t affect the standard half-day program that districts must offer if they have enough qualifying students.
But about a quarter of Texas’ 1,237 districts receive pre-kindergarten grants that are expected to disappear in the new state budget. Because most of these districts use that funding for full-day classes, even some of the state’s largest school systems are now considering cutting their full-day offerings or shifting funding from other programs.
The grant cuts — included in both the Senate- and House-approved budget proposals — would save the state more than $200 million in its attempt to solve a $27 billion budget shortfall over the next two fiscal years.
A study done by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University compared children in an eight-hour pre-kindergarten program with children assigned to a 2½- to three-hour program in a randomized trial, finding that those in the longer program had a greater improvement in test scores.
“Pre-K is important because it sets a child up on a path to school success,” said Steve Barnett, institute co-director and one of the study’s authors.
But Susan Landry, director of the University of Texas Health Science Center’s Children’s Learning Institute in Houston, said her concern is more with the quality of the program. She cited a study published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly that found children’s academic gains related more with the quality of the program than its duration.
That may be so, but even still, if good quality full-day programs are being cut to half-day programs, then we all agree that the affected children will be the worse off for it. Even cutbacks in mediocre programs will reduce the children’s potential. All this for a relatively tiny and completely transitory savings in the budget – anyone want to guess how much this will cost us down the line in lost economic gains and increased crime? – and all because of the perverse and short-sighted refusal to use the Rainy Day Fund to mitigate some of the shortfall.