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Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

New Funding for Early Education New Law Increases Funding for Texas' Youngest Students

by Peggy Fikac Published February 2020

In 2019, the Texas Legislature approved an ambitious overhaul of public education that includes a big investment in early learning — programs many educators consider crucial for the success of students who are economically disadvantaged, learning English or both.

The Early Education Allotment in House Bill 3, signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, will provide an estimated $835 million in additional state funding for early education programs in the 2019-20 school year. The funds are being allocated to school districts based on their number of economically disadvantaged students and English learners in grades K-3; nearly 65 percent of this amount is expected to flow to districts in 10 urban counties with large numbers of eligible students (Exhibit 1).

The allotment is part of a state drive to improve reading and mathematics proficiency by the third grade, a benchmark that can determine students’ future achievement.

Exhibit 1: Largest Estimated Allocations of Early Education Allotment, 2019-20 School Year

County Estimated Allotment
Harris $ 165,811,843
Dallas 103,343,845
Hidalgo 56,427,047
Tarrant 53,992,594
Bexar 50,265,596
El Paso 33,944,553
Travis 25,911,780
Cameron 20,193,712
Webb 17,084,760
Collin 13,773,663
Statewide $ 835,150,728

Source: Texas Education Agency


Students in Need

Texas’ growing population includes increasing numbers of students who are economically disadvantaged — defined by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) as those eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch Program or meeting certain other qualifications — and who aren’t yet proficient in English. Educators say these groups can benefit most from early education.

The share of students in Texas public schools identified as economically disadvantaged rose from 56.6 percent in the 2008-09 school year to 60.6 percent in 2018-19, according to a July 2019 TEA report (PDF) (Exhibit 2). The share of students still learning English rose from 16.9 percent to 19.4 percent (Exhibit 3).

Exhibit 2: Students Identified as Economically Disadvantaged in Texas Public Schools

School year Number Share of Total Enrollment
2008-09 2,686,259 56.6%
2009-10 2,853,177 58.9%
2010-11 2,914,916 59.1%
2011-12 3,013,442 60.3%
2012-13 3,058,894 60.3%
2013-14 3,096,050 60.1%
2014-15 3,073,300 58.7%
2015-16 3,122,903 58.9%
2016-17 3,159,327 59.0%
2017-18 3,168,294 58.7%
2018-19 3,289,468 60.6 %

Source: Texas Education Agency



Exhibit 3: Students Identified as English Language Learners in Texas Public Schools

School year Number Share of Total Enrollment
2008-09 800,554 16.9%
2009-10 817,074 16.9
2010-11 831,812 16.9%
2011-12 838,418 16.8%
2012-13 864,682 17.0%
2013-14 900,476 17.5%
2014-15 949,074 18.1%
2015-16 980,487 18.5%
2016-17 1,010,756 18.9%
2017-18 1,015,372 18.8%
2018-19 1,055,172 19.4%

Source: Texas Education Agency


According to Gov. Abbott’s February 2019 State of the State Address, only about 40 percent of Texas third graders are reading at grade level by the time they complete the grade. Of Texas students who take the SAT or ACT college entrance exams, Abbott said, less than 40 percent are prepared for college.

Early Matters — a coalition of Texas businesses, educators, civic and nonprofit organizations and partner cities — says studies have found (PDF) third graders who aren’t reading at grade level are four times likelier to drop out of high school compared to proficient readers.

And all of us pay a price for dropouts. A 2010 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation estimated that each U.S. student who doesn’t complete high school costs society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and economic productivity.

“The moral and ethical argument is that, ideally, kids would come to kindergarten more or less equally ready to learn, which is unfortunately not the case,” says Superintendent Brian T. Woods of Northside Independent School District (ISD) in San Antonio. “Pre-K helps you correct that. It gives kids a chance to be successful with their age-appropriate peers.

“There’s an economic argument to be made,” Woods adds. “If students attend pre-K, and thus are more successful in early grades, they’re more likely to graduate from high school, have a better trajectory and thus contribute in a more robust way to the state’s economy or the nation’s economy.”

Expanding Pre-K

Each student qualifying for the Early Education Allotment generates additional funding equal to 10 percent of the basic allotment for education. That amounts to $616 per student or $1,232 for each student meeting both criteria (that is, both economically disadvantaged and not fully proficient in English).

Under HB 3, the additional funding may be used for programs including full-day prekindergarten for eligible 4-year-olds, which school districts must offer if they identify 15 or more eligible students. It also may be used for programs and services designed to achieve goals of each district’s early childhood literacy and mathematics proficiency plans, including initiatives such as teacher attendance at reading academies providing research-based professional development.

Before HB 3, the state required school districts to offer half-day prekindergarten for eligible students, funding it through the Foundation School Program at nearly $822.2 million in the 2017-18 school year. The new allotment can help pay the extra expense of a full-day program.

According to TEA, 1,058 Texas school districts offered prekindergarten in the 2017-18 school year (most recent data available); of these, 262 offered only a half-day program, 457 offered only a full-day program and 339 offered both.

Districts already offering full-day prekindergarten — or with plans to implement it — can use the extra money to enhance or expand programs. Districts needing time to institute full-day prekindergarten can seek a state waiver and use allotment funds for planning.

ELIGIBILITY FOR FREE PRE-K

Texas children are eligible for free prekindergarten if they are four years old on or before Sept. 1 of the current school year and meet one of the following criteria:

  • unable to speak and comprehend the English language
  • economically disadvantaged
  • homeless as defined by 42 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section 1143a
  • child of an active-duty member of the U.S. armed forces
  • child of a member of the U.S. armed forces who was injured or killed while on active duty
  • child in, or formerly in, the conservatorship of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services following an adversary hearing
  • child of a person eligible for the Star of Texas Award, which honors peace officers, firefighters and emergency medical first responders who are seriously injured or killed in the line of duty

Districts may offer a program for 3-year-olds who meet the same eligibility criteria, but they are not required to do so.

Source: Texas Education Agency

An Important Investment

Investing in early education could dramatically shape the future of Texas and its children for the better. “I really believe that it’s going to be the game changer,” says Superintendent LaTonya M. Goffney of Aldine ISD in Harris County.

For Goffney, the emphasis on early learning not only makes sense professionally but strikes a deeply personal note. She describes herself as “a student of poverty,” saying that she was born in Coldspring, Texas, to a 15-year-old mother and that she never knew her father.

“We lived in poverty that you can’t even imagine, but when I went to school, guess what? I had teachers who treated me as if I were smart, and expected me to be smart, so school was the great equalizer,” she says. But, she added, schools can’t be “equalizers” if they lack the resources to help disadvantaged students start well.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor, sponsor of HB 3, calls the allotment an “extremely important” initiative.

“Reading at the third-grade level by the end of third grade is a very accurate predictor of future academic success for every student,” Taylor says. “Up to the third grade, they are learning to read; from the third grade on, they are reading to learn. This new, strategic funding will be instrumental to improving the educational outcomes for all of our students.”

House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty, the bill’s author, says one of HB 3’s specific goals “was to get students to be proficient readers by third grade, which we know will set them up for future academic success. The Early Education Allotment, along with other strategies in the bill, sets up a framework and process for the state to make this investment and encourage students to meet this goal.”

Welcome Support

For Superintendent Mike Kuhrt of Wichita Falls ISD, the allotment provides important support for the district’s existing full-day pre-K program.

“That allotment validated what we had been doing,” says Kuhrt. “We funded at full day, and that just means we took money from elsewhere to do that.”

His district, which expects to receive $2 million through the allotment this school year, also is instituting reading academies for kindergarten through third-grade teachers.

Superintendent Gonzalo Salazar of Los Fresnos Consolidated ISD says he made a hard decision years ago to recommend changing from full-day to half-day pre-K out of concern about growth that, at the time, was straining his district’s operational budget and facilities. The half-day program has been supplemented with Head Start for qualifying students, he says.

This year, though, his district is planning for a return to full-day prekindergarten, with careful attention to developing curriculum, preparing facilities and hiring staff.

“If we’re going to do it right, we have to start off on the right foot and take the time to plan our full-day pre-K,” says Salazar. “I am so glad that the Legislature focused on the needs of public education and heard the voices of superintendents throughout the state,” he says. “Is it enough money? Time will tell. But I love the focus on literacy.”

The investment can change lives, emphasizes Superintendent Goffney. Her district has long offered full-day prekindergarten, she says, and its estimated $18.3 million in allotment funding is being dedicated to enhancing that program and early education in general.

“My grandpa couldn’t read, and so he actually signed his name with an ‘X’,” Goffney says. “And he used to tell me, ‘Tonya, if you can read, you can go anywhere.’ I tell that story to convey to our team and our teachers that if our students can read, they truly can go anywhere. And if they can’t, then we’re going to have a problem.” FN

For more information on early childhood education in Texas, visit the Texas Education Agency.

The Texas Comptroller’s office encourages parents to begin saving early for their children’s future. Use the tools on our website to learn about the state’s prepaid tuition and savings plans, scholarship opportunities and more.

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