Pro­posal guts pre-K grant,

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Julie Chang jchang@states­man.com

Gov. Greg Ab­bott’s sig­na­ture high-qual­ity prekinder­garten grant pro­gram is on even shakier ground after mem­bers of a Se­nate com­mit­tee in­di­cated on Wed­nes­day that they will be join­ing the House in propos­ing elim­i­nat­ing the pro­gram.

On Wed­nes­day, the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee rec­om­mended strip­ping fund­ing for the pro­gram, Ab­bott’s hall­mark leg­is­la­tion two years ago. The pro­gram doled out $118 mil­lion over the last two years and Ab­bott wanted $236 mil­lion for 2018 and 2019. About half of the school dis­tricts in Texas re­ceived the grant pro­gram money on the con­di­tion that they im­ple­ment high-qual­ity stan­dards, such as fam­ily en­gage­ment, re­port­ing more data to the state and re­quir­ing teach­ers have an ad­di­tional cre­den­tial.

It ap­pears that Se­nate bud­get writ­ers are try­ing to cut costs to free up money for other is­sues in­clud­ing adding $290 mil­lion to the Teacher Re­tire­ment Sys­tem health ben­e­fits pro­gram, which is fac­ing a short­fall.

“It’s in­com­pre­hen­si­ble that the Se­nate is jeop­ar­diz­ing the fu­ture of Texas stu­dents by de­priv­ing them of high qual­ity pre-K, in­stead forc­ing them into an un­ac­count­able pro­gram,” said Ab­bott’s spokesman John Wittman.

The House last month pro­posed gut­ting Ab­bott’s pre-K grant pro­gram and putting the money in sup­ple­men­tal pre-K fund­ing, which would go to all school dis­tricts that of­fer pre-K. House of­fi­cials said that they wanted to of­fer flex­i­bil­ity to school dis­tricts on how to use the money.

House and Se­nate bud­get pro­pos­als would still fund half-day pre-K based on pro­jected en­roll­ment growth over the next two years.

The Se­nate’s lat­est ver­sion of the bud­get for pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion also would elim­i­nate sup­ple­men­tal pre-K fund­ing and in­stead put the money in a $40 mil­lion “Prekinder­garten Pub­lic-Pri­vate Part­ner­ships Pro­gram.” The pro­gram is in­tended to im­prove the qual­ity of pre-K through “kinder­garten read- iness tools, de­vel­op­men­tal tools, rubrics, and best prac­tice guides.”

Of­fi­cials from school dis­tricts ex­pe­ri­enc­ing rapid en­roll­ment growth are also up­set with the Se­nate’s pro­posal to cut all money — $47.5 mil­lion over two years — that was given to such dis­tricts to help with the start-up costs of open­ing a new school.

The new in­struc­tional fa­cil­i­ties’ al­lot­ment was es­tab­lished in 1999 but de­funded in 2011 and re­in­stated in 2015.

“The Texas Se­nate is short­chang­ing Texas pub­lic schools and char­ter schools with dra­co­nian cuts to state fund­ing for fa­cil­i­ties. Schools that shoul­der the tremen­dous growth and in­flux of new stu­dents are hit es­pe­cially hard as they try to make do with their al­ready lean lo­cal bud­gets,” said Guy Sconzo, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Fast Growth School Coali­tion.

The Drip­ping Springs school district would lose $370,000; Hays $190,000; Hutto $170,000; and Le­an­der $260,000, district of­fi­cials have re­ported to the coali­tion.

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