The federal government made total $250 million in pre-K funding available to states recently, of which $120 was available to Texas, but Lone Star children are no better off for it. Unfortunately, they’re losing out on the latest available federal funding boost for the same reason they lost out on funds from programs like Race to the Top: Texas’ refusal to meaningfully use the money.
Though the grant is clearly set for public universal pre-K — it’s part of a total $1 billion federal funding plan President Obama will push in 2015 — Texas made clear on its application that it intended to use any share to fund private educators in a voucher program, and would not use the money to reduce Texas classroom sizes, which stands twice the officially recommended 10:1 staff to student ratio. It’s important to remember that Texas’ Education Commissioner Michael Williams, in charge of the state’s application, is a partisan Republican whose largest body of work preceding his Perry appointment was in the private energy industry and on the oil-regulating Texas Railroad Commission.
“I really regret that we didn’t get the grant,” David Anthony, CEO for the education group Raise Your Hand Texas, told the Houston Chronicle. “However, the inclusion of a voucher program for pre-K was a negative aspect of that grant application.”
The decision, announced Wednesday, granted a total $226 million to 18 of the 36 states that applied. In addition to Texas’ clear unwillingness to use the money as intended, its application failed to lay out any meaningful outcome measurement, and set up a nonsensical system by which families benefiting from the grant would become responsible for their child’s pre-K funding when the money ran out.
AP explains the current state of pre-K in Texas:
The state now pays for half-day pre-kindergarten for all eligible 3- and 4-year-olds, and about half of those eligible are enrolled. That is more than 226,000 children at a cost to the state of about $800 million a year. Local districts must pay the difference for full-day pre-kindergarten programs, which only half of the 10 biggest Texas school districts provide.
Separately from this grant process, Texas will receive $30 million from Health and Human Services to widen Early Head Start implementation. And with Greg Abbott coming in next month, it looks like Texas may do slightly more on pre-K: he wants to increase pre-K standards in exchange for $118 million in available state funds to spread out among some of its many tragically underfunded districts. The Dallas Morning News notes that “plan falls short of the full-day universal pre-K advocated by some education experts — and this newspaper”. It’s far short of universal pre-K, and Texas’ continued failure to try meaningfully for federal funding displays the real lack of public education dedication among state leaders.
WFAA breaks down the loss: