Politics & Government

February 12, 2014

Davis pushes increased funding for pre-K programs

Davis said the state can “set the right priorities” by restoring funding to the early education program.

In the latest of her education reform proposals, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis is calling for increased access to full-day pre-kindergarten programs and an expansion of early-childhood reading programs.

Davis’ plan, which proposes that school districts statewide offer full-day pre-K programs beyond the three hours a day the state already funds, pivots on her push for further restoration of spending cuts made by the Legislature in 2011.

The Legislature’s $5.4 billion worth of spending cuts for public schools included a cut of more than $200 million in the state’s Pre-K Early Start Grant program, according to the Davis proposal. The fund, which the Legislature created in 2000, had funded pre-K expansion in schools looking to extend their programs.

Davis’ proposal does not include a price tag, but it suggests that increased funding for districts to offer full-day pre-K programs could come from the creation of a grant system through the Texas Education Agency and by restoring funds to the Pre-K Early Start Grant program.

Though the Legislature restored $30 million in funding for the program in 2013, Davis’ proposal calls for more.

In a statement released by her campaign, Davis said the state can “set the right priorities” with the “right leadership,” adding that the state needs “new leadership that tirelessly promotes pre-K and early childhood education so that Texas children are on the right path from the get go.”

The 2011 education cuts prompted a lawsuit against the state from a coalition of more than two-thirds of Texas school districts, which claim the state’s funding system is inadequate. Davis called on her expected opponent, Republican gubernatorial candidate and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, this week to settle that lawsuit.

Abbott’s spokesman Avdiel Huerta said Davis’ proposals lacked details and would lead to increased spending.

“Sen. Wendy Davis’ education proposals are mere talking points — not an actual plan that presents or explains how much her proposals will cost and how she plans to pay for them,” Huerta said. “The only thing definitive in Sen. Davis’ fuzzy proposal is that it will add billions in new spending with unfunded promises.”

Davis’ spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña said the senator’s proposals could be achieved through existing resources, citing the $2.58 billion surplus in the Texas budget and $500 million that went unspent during the 2013 legislative session.

Davis is also proposing that the state expand eligibility for pre-K programs beyond “in need” students by establishing sliding-scale payment plans for families that earn above 185 percent of the federal poverty level — or $43,567 a year for a family of four — to cover costs associated with adding more seats in pre-K classes.

Her “Great Start: Great Texas” plan also includes proposals to promote early childhood reading and ensure that students are up to corresponding reading levels by the time they enroll in the third grade.

Davis’ proposal suggests this can be accomplished through increased staff training and also by restoring previously cut state funding that led to the loss of some teachers’ aides in public schools.

Davis previously unveiled the first two parts of her education plan, including proposals to increase the number of teachers in Texas and to make college more accessible through dual credit programs. She is expected to announce a fourth proposal in coming weeks.

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