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Lawmakers Propose Pre-K Incentive Payment System

The Texas Tribune
February 3, 2015

Two lawmakers in the Texas House have presented a plan for a major overhaul of early education in the state.

House Bill 1100, filed Tuesday by State Reps. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, and Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, would create an incentive payment system for school districts offering full-day pre-kindergarten programs.

"The research is in, and it shows that full-day pre-K is one of the best investments we can make in education. It can cut the achievement gap for children in poverty in half and will reduce future spending on remedial education, special education and the criminal justice system," Johnson said in a statement. "If we're serious about improving public education, we've got to get serious about full-day pre-K." 

The bill provides additional state funding for districts that agree to adopt a number of policies — including regular teacher training, limits on class size and certain curriculum standards — in their pre-kindergarten programs. Only districts offering full-day programs would be eligible.

The bipartisan measure comes as momentum builds to improve early education in the state. Gov. Greg Abbott, along with other state leaders, have said such reforms are a top priority this legislative session. Other proposals are expected to come before the bill filing deadline of March 15.

Johnson and Farney's legislation has attracted the support of a broad coalition of business-oriented and education advocacy groups, including the Texas Association of Business and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings have also endorsed the bill.

The state pays for half-day pre-K for students from low-income, non-English-speaking or military families. In the 2011 legislative session, state lawmakers slashed roughly $200 million in grants that had helped school districts expand from half-day to full-day pre-K programs. Two years later, they restored $30 million of that money.

Almost half of Texas school districts currently fund full-day programs, according to a 2014 survey from the education research and advocacy group Children at Risk.