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Abbott’s pre-K plan

It’s about what you’d expect from someone who isn’t particularly interested in improving public education.

Still not Greg Abbott

Announcing the first of his education policy proposals Monday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott called for reforming pre-kindergarten programs before expanding access, saying that additional funding should be tied to academic outcomes.

Abbott’s plan, which was unveiled in Weslaco, proposes providing an additional $1,500 per student on top of the funding the state already provides for half-day pre-K programs if the program meets performance requirements set by the state.

“Expanding the population of students served by existing state-funded programs without addressing the quality of existing prekindergarten instruction or how it is being delivered would be an act of negligence and waste,” Abbott’s policy proposal reads.

Abbott’s proposal comes with a $118 million price tag in the 2016-17 biennium and includes a focus on annual reviews for children beginning school in 2016.

His pre-K proposal flies in the face of state Sen. Wendy Davis’ proposal for increased access to full-day pre-kindergarten programs in February.

The Democratic gubernatorial contender’s plan, which proposes that school districts across the state offer full-day pre-K programs beyond the three hours a day the state already funds, pivots on her push for further restoration of $5.4 billion in spending cuts made by the Legislature in 2011, which included a cut of more than $200 million to the state’s Pre-K Early Start Grant program. The fund, which the Legislature created in 2000, had funded pre-K expansion in schools looking to extend their programs.

While the Legislature restored $30 million in funding for the program in 2013, Davis has called for the restoration of more funds and has called on Abbott to settle an ongoing school finance lawsuit, which was prompted by the cuts.

It’s hard to see how this plan would do anything but benefit the school districts and students that need it the least at the expense of the districts and students that need it the most. Part of the problem is that too many kids start out behind even before they reach pre-k age.

Educators say that many parents, especially among the poor and immigrants, do not know that talking, as well as reading, singing and playing with their young children, is important. “I’ve had young moms say, ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to talk to my baby until they could say words and talk to me,’ ” said Susan Landry, director of the Children’s Learning Institute at the University of Texas in Houston, which has developed a home visiting program similar to the one here in Providence.

And these are the children who are least likely to measure up under Abbott’s proposal, which would seem to necessitate more standardized testing. That’s just what we need.

From the Chron story, we see that among other things, Abbott’s proposal is based in part on faulty assumptions.

The revamped state program would require pre-K providers that receive state funds to set benchmarks and report data to the Texas Education Agency.

The plan also called for a strategy to steer parents of eligible 4-year-olds away from the federally funded Head Start program to state-funded pre-K programs because of research that has found gains by Head Start alumni were short-lived.

Many public school districts in Texas use both, administering Head Start and state-funded pre-K classes.

Abbott said the quality of state-funded pre-K programs is largely unknown because information regarding these programs is rarely gathered. He called for “greater transparency of pre-K programs” to better “assess the return on taxpayers’ investment.”

That’s a mischaracterization of the research about Head Start. But even if you buy into that idea, why is it better to prefer a system for which there’s no quality research about its outcomes? What if the state-funded pre-k classes aren’t as good? And if they are as good, why is Abbott still defending $200 million in cuts to state-funded pre-k while only proposing at most $118 million in additional funds? Citing an intellectually dishonest race hustler like Charles Murray as a source doesn’t add any confidence, either. This whole thing is a mess, and there’s still the rest of his education plan to come. Don’t expect much. BOR, PDiddie, Jason Stanford, and John Coby have more.

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