In the State of the State address on February 17, Governor Greg Abbott identified five key issues which he intends to be the top legislative priorities in the immediate future. One of these issues was PreK funding.
In his gubernatorial campaign, Abbott declared his support for state-funded PreK programs and laid out his vision for the quality and accountability of such programs. While his opponent Wendy Davis argued for universally available full-day PreK, Abbott has been a proponent of increasing access to half-day programs first and foremost. As a step in this direction, he has advocated state funding for all public PreK programs which meet a “gold standard” with TEA accountability.
A bill proposed in the wake of the State of the State address, House Bill 4, would put this plan into motion by giving districts $1,500 per PreK student if their programs meet the quality standards. The bill is controversial, but its opponents’ primary complaint is that it does not do enough – a competing bill, Senate Bill 23, proposes universally available full-day PreK for four-year-olds. Support for these two approaches is generally split along party lines within the legislature, with Republicans favoring the approach of House Bill 4 and Democrats favoring the approach of Senate Bill 23.
While it remains unclear exactly how the legislature will address the matter, it can safely be said that an increase in funding is now only a matter of time. And while it is obviously too soon to say whether the additional funds will be enough to support truly high-quality programming, any increase in funding for PreK is a step in the right direction.