After much wrangling and politicking, the Lege did indeed pass a new law regarding Pre-K programs. The headline on HB 4 is what it did not do. It did not open the door to more kids to attend Pre-K. Nor did it fund a full day Pre-K. Eligibility for Pre-K is still limited to kids who meet certain criteria. They must be three or four years old and 1) unable to speak English; 2) educationally disadvantaged; 3) homeless; 4) the child of an active duty military parent; 5) the child of a parent injured or killed in military service; or 6) a child who has been in conservatorship. There were several bills introduced that would have kept these limitations in place for three-year olds, but opened Pre-K to all four year olds. None of those bills passed.
The new law provides Foundation School Program funding for a half-day program. On top of that, there will be grant funding available for programs that meet certain standards. The grant funding is only available for four-year olds, and cannot exceed $1500/student. The specifics of the grant funding will be established by the Commissioner. The total funding available for this cannot exceed $130 million over the next two years. That would be $65 million per year; if funded to the max, this would help out 43,333 four-year olds.
There was some talk that districts would be required to impose an assessment of sorts on the kids in Pre-K, but that did not happen. The only reference to testing in the bill leaves it optional with the district. It says that “If the district elects to administer an assessment” then it must include a description and the results of the assessment in its PEIMS data.
Another noteworthy provision creates a new credential: a Child Development Associate (CDA). Service Centers are authorized to provide training for this. Districts that seek the grant funding must employ certified teachers who also have a CDA or equivalent training and/or experience. No doubt we will see more rules on this.
Finally, the Lege took advantage of this new law to take another couple of shots at the Common Core. In two places HB 4 emphasizes that Pre-K programs in Texas may not use Common Core standards. Of course there are no Common Core standards for Pre-K, but you know, we just want to be sure.
DAWG BONE: WATCH FOR NEW RULES RE: HB 4 AND YOUR PRE-K PROGRAM.