AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — Texas leaders were fighting on Thursday to continue the state’s high-quality Pre-Kindergarten program after lawmakers in both chambers decided there wasn’t enough room in the next budget.
The program, established in 2015, gives $118 million a year to Texas school districts for Pre-K.
Thursday morning, business leaders, children’s advocates, philanthropists and other concerned Texans echoed Gov. Greg Abbott’s request to continue the funding over the next two years.
“The Pre-K grant program has gotten off to a very promising start,” Stephanie Ruben, CEO of Texans Care for Children said. “Grant funds are reaching nearly the entire state, serving districts that educate 86 percent of the state’s Pre-K kids.”
However, when budget writers sat down this legislative session, they zeroed out the program’s funding completely, and instead prioritized funding for Child Protective Services and foster care.
The Senate included $65 million in their budget this year for a “public-private partnership” for Pre-K programs, but it doesn’t fund the “high quality” grant program. The house put the program on their budget “wishlist.”
“If we look at today’s generation that is coming up, we need them, our military needs them, our country needs them, we also need these kids to succeed in life,” Jud Scott, a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy said. “We have to do something about this, and the [time] to do that is now.”
Scott says a child’s success starts in Pre-K. He says cutting the program’s funding would not only hurt the child’s future, but the future of our military as well.
“Over 70 percent of American’s youth are not eligible to join the military. And the reason for this is that they are not eligible for military service due to lack of education, obesity and having a record of crime or drug abuse,” Scott said. “In Texas, it’s worse. In Texas it is 73 percent of our youth are not eligible for military service.”
Ami Cortes, principal at Lucy Reed Pre-K Center, says it’s critical for a child’s development.
“When our students walk through our door in August, many of them don’t know how to grip a pencil, or count to 10, or even say their ABCs,” Cortes said. “Some don’t know how to socialize with peers or teachers and the only way they know how to interact is by crying, hitting or grabbing from others.”
Several lawmakers have continued the push to expand Pre-Kindergarten in Texas. One bill filed this session aims to cap Pre-K classrooms at 22 students. Another bill would allow Pre-K to only operate in charter schools.
Right now roughly 220,000 children participate in the state’s Pre-K program daily. Texas also pays for half-day programs for students from low-income and military families.