How are Texas school districts using state pre-K funding to expand educational options for 3- and 4-year-olds? It depends where you look. With just a few short months between the end of the legislative session and the first day of school, administrators had to tackle a catalogue of challenging tasks: hire enough teachers to meet spiking enrollment numbers, advertise the new options to parents living in district boundaries, consider transportation options, and make space in existing elementary schools or portable buildings. That was too much too soon for Frisco ISD, one of multiple school districts that could ask for a temporary waiver from offering full-day pre-K this year, because it doesn’t have enough space for extra classrooms. Lawmakers and advocates have encouraged school districts to partner with federal and private providers, including Head Start and local child care organizations, to increase the number of students they can serve and guarantee high-quality programs.
The government’s overall appropriation of funds for special education preschool programs has varied by year, but generally decreased between 2002 and 2015, from $390 million to $353 million, before getting a slight bump to about $368 million in 2016 and 2017. At the same time, the number of children served by the programs more than doubled from the early 1990s to 2017, when 753,000 children ages 3 to 5 were served. The growth in enrollment without adequate federal funding (for special education) means per pupil spending has decreased sharply, by 40 percent per child from 1994 to 2014. Without funds, states may struggle to offer a robust special education preschool program and services, which means kids who could greatly benefit from having a head start in school are missing out and losing valuable time to catch up with their peers.
While Afton recognizes that total federal preschool funding has increased substantially since 2008, this article points out the growth in special education Pre-K enrollment without adequate federal funding for Pre-K students with disabilities.
Inside America’s child care crisis: Even after a ‘historic’ federal investment, today’s system only serves 1 in 6 eligible kids. Could more funding now be on the way?
Though advocates hailed the additional $2.37 billion of federal child care funding in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 as “truly historic,” they are seeking more funding for the program, which still only serves about 1 in 6 eligible children. Early-education groups asked Congress for another $5 billion for fiscal 2020; House Democrats proposed adding about half of that, $2.4 billion next year. Long-term, it would probably take about $100 billion annually to cover every eligible child, said Jay Nichols, director of federal policy and government affairs at Child Care Aware of America, based on current spending and the number of eligible children served. Policymakers would also have to address widespread child care deserts, where providers simply aren’t available. To allow states to make more long-term plans, much of that funding should come from mandatory sources, meaning it wouldn’t be subject to congressional whims, he added.
Five years ago, Seattle residents voted for a ballot measure to raise property taxes, generating $58 million to fund an overhaul of existing preschools, some of which are run by nonprofits or out of homes, and create new ones. By the 2017-2018 school year, students in Seattle Preschool Program schools had made significant gains on vocabulary, literacy and math tests compared with a nationally representative sample of children who took the same tests. In November, 68.5 percent of Seattle voters agreed to continue the tax increase to pay for even more preschool seats. Public preschool isn’t just a West Coast trend. Cities throughout the country are offering first-rate, affordable preschool to low- and middle-income families squeezed by rising housing costs. Cincinnati voters said yes to higher property taxes. “We can’t wait around for support at the state and federal level,” said Shiloh Turner, executive director of Cincinnati Preschool Promise. “That’s precisely why so many local efforts to fund preschool have popped up. You can make it happen at the local level because we know the community’s needs best.”
Research finds Pre-K enrollment, spending stagnant, as key federal early learning grants are about to dry up
Overall, about one-third of the country’s 4-year-olds and less than 6 percent of 3-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded programs in the 2017-18 school year, according to…an annual report by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. Those numbers represent small increases from the previous year, with “much of the increase” in enrollment of 4-year-olds coming from federal Preschool Development Grants, the report found. Those federal funds, which went to 18 states, are coming to an end this year; the grants were announced in December 2014 and paid out over four years. “Those grants go away this year … States are going to have to find a way to fill that budget hole,” Steven Barnett, co-director of the institute, said on a webinar with reporters Tuesday. About half of the 18 states that received the grants, which totaled $244 million last year, have plans to sustain the funding through other sources, he said.
For several sessions, the push in the Texas Legislature to fund full-day pre-K in public schools has failed. State lawmakers have yet to agree on a way to fund a full-day pre-K program, but that could change this session. The full Texas House will take up its school finance measure this week, which includes a $750 million provision to fund full-day pre-K. Pre-K funding is more likely this session, as lawmakers seem finally ready to address the state’s long-standing school finance issues, and as evidence of the importance of pre-K education mounts. Debates over pre-K funding center on whether the money would come from one-time grants, as it has in the past, or whether it would be part of the legislature’s biennial spending on education.
As venture capitalists and private-equity firms continue to invest billions of dollars in education, they’re increasingly directing their funds to early childhood development, a long-neglected subset of the education population. Since 2016, government spending on early childhood programs has increased 17 percent and private capital has risen 12 percent, according to a panel of impact investors at SXSW EDU. On a larger scale, federal funding has grown 62 percent in the last decade…and state funding for preschools alone has increased 47 percent in the last five years.
After campaigning on the expansion of preschool and other early-childhood programs, many of the nation’s newly elected governors are following through with budget proposals that include money to support children from cradle to school entry. One of the largest proposals is from California, where Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is in the enviable position of having a budget surplus projected at more than $20 billion. He has floated the largest proposal from a governor thus far, aiming to spend $1.8 billion on an array of programs including expansion of full-day kindergarten, free preschool for children from low-income families with the aim of making the program universal, and increased subsidies for child care, among other initiatives. In Colorado, newly elected Gov. Jared Polis, also a Democrat, used his State of the State address to advocate for more than $200 million that would allow all of Colorado’s school districts to offer full-day kindergarten.
Emanuel confident that Chicago’s universal pre-K program will live on after his exit, but will next mayor balk at the price tag?
The abrupt announcement that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel isn’t seeking re-election has raised questions about whether his sprawling initiative to implement free, universal pre-K will survive once he’s left office. While it’s unlikely a successor would oppose free pre-K outright, some education pundits said that at a time of fiscal strain, a post-Rahm mayor may question the expansion’s $175 million annual price tag. The city’s behemoth school district, Chicago Public Schools, is already spread thin, shouldering hefty debt, educator shortages, and a half-empty teacher pension fund.
Bezos targets homeless families, under-served preschoolers with $2 billion fund, but details are few
The Amazon founder said Thursday that he and his wife, MacKenzie, would commit $2 billion to fund existing nonprofits working with homeless families and to create a network of nonprofit preschools in low-income communities. The Day 1 Families Fund will make annual awards to organizations “doing compassionate, needle moving work to provide shelter and hunger support to address the immediate needs of young families,” while the Day 1 Academies Fund will start and operate a network of “full-scholarship, Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities,” Bezos said on Twitter.