Lawmakers Debate Half-Day vs. Full-Day Pre-K

Dan Huberty
Dan Huberty

Texas legislators of all political stripes have agreed on at least one thing during the 84th legislative session: the need to expand the state’s limited pre-K program.

But, when it comes to just how much to expand pre-K—whether to pony up for full-day pre-K programs or settle for a half-day option—there is less accord.

This divide was on display during Tuesday’s standing-room-only, marathon meeting of the House Committee on Public Education. The committee debated six pre-K bills, but Rep. Dan Huberty’s House Bill 4—the most likely to pass out of committee—got the most attention.

HB 4 would provide an additional $130 million for school districts across the state to improve pre-K programs. Currently districts are required to offer half-day pre-K to English language learners as well as homeless, foster and low-income students—about 225,000 students at a cost of $800 million.

Some say that HB 4, while a step in the right direction, doesn’t go far enough . They’d like to see the state provide enough funding for districts to offer full-day programs.

“It’s crucial to try to get to full-day [pre-K] as soon as possible,” said Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) as he laid out House Bill 1100.

Coauthored with Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown), HB 1100 would provide funding to districts that offer full-day programs, provided they limit class sizes and train teachers.

Research has shown that students in quality full-day pre-K programs outperform their peers in half-day programs on assessments of social-emotional skills, math and language.

Huberty defended his bill as “a first step.”

Dozens of people, including several superintendents, testified in favor of increasing pre-K funding—most of them advocating for full-day pre-K.

The Obama administration has made full-day pre-K for low-income students a top education priority, and dozens of states have expanded spending on early childhood education. Last month, Gov. Greg Abbott named early education one of five emergency legislative items.

In 2011, the Legislature cut $300 million in early education funding. During today’s hearing, Huberty acknowledged that HB 4 would only replace about a third of that.

CORRECTION: Rep. Eric Johnson’s first name previously was incorrect in the story above. It has been updated.

John Savage is a writer based in Austin.

Published at 10:48 pm CST