All-day prekindergarten established by a new state law for public schools is getting an “A” from area educators as a boon to young learning.
Under House Bill 3, the 86th Legislature authorized sweeping reforms to school finance including full-time pre-K classes for low-income students in all Texas public institutions.
Educators across San Antonio are cheering the new development, agreeing that quality pre-K classes for 4-year-olds can have a huge impact on their success.
State Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio and a former District 1 councilman, is credited by fellow lawmakers for playing a crucial role in writing and shepherding HB 3.
“With early childhood, there was no question and no one could argue that full-day, high-quality pre-K was not the closest thing to an educational equalizer that exists,” he said.
Indeed, the House and Senate voted unanimously to OK the bill’s final version, which includes funding for all-day schooling for economically disadvantaged 4-year-olds and others who qualify.
“Full-day, high-quality pre-K is the one thing educationally you can do for a child that has been shown to have the greatest effect,” Bernal said.
According to the Education Writers Association, “Over the past two decades, a growing body of research has helped bring the importance of the early years into greater focus. High-quality, early-childhood education and care are increasingly considered critical levers in supporting children’s development, school readiness and long-term life outcomes.”
A University of Texas at San Antonio Urban Education Institute study echoes those assertions.
“Students who complete pre-K, score over 11 percentage points higher on reading scores and over 15 percentage points higher on math scores than students who didn’t participate in public pre-K,” according to the report.
The early years are key, experts concur, because the brain develops at the fastest rate in young children – particularly birth to age 5. It’s easier and more effective to influence a baby’s developing brain than to try to make up for deficits later, says the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
Yet, EWA noted on its website, “In most states, early-childhood education outside the home is delivered in an often-fragmented system of providers, including home-based and center-based child care, as well as schools. In addition, funding is typically patchwork, with support from various sources, such as federal, state and local governments; school districts; charitable organizations; and individual families.”
Now, thanks to the new law, that has changed beginning with this school year.
As for program financing, Bernal said, “The pre-K mandate is absolutely funded. It is formula-funded, unlike grants which run out, forcing schools to reapply for funding.”
The representative added, “We funded it so it is part of the skeleton of school funding, it’s part of the permanent funding system, which is very, very different than what we’ve done in the past.”
Most local independent school districts had pre-K programs, but in half-day allotments. The latest act requires six-hour sessions.
Alamo Heights Independent School District added full-day pre-K to its existing program before the state acted. Howard Early Childhood Center houses pre-K, Head Start and kindergarten for AHISD under one roof.
Howard Principal Susan Peery and Jimmie Walker, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, both said the community supports all-day pre-K.
They’re pleased with the results of the experimental program.
“We do an assessment every year, twice a year – assessing pre-K students’ growth on our goals. We saw an increase in how kids were doing in full-day pre-K,” Walker said.
Parents are encouraged to check with their local school district to determine plans for pre-K programs. And, while they’re free to low-income families, many also offer tuition opportunities for others.