Editorials

Arlington wants to see pre-K restraints lifted

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

Lisa Ben-Shalom and Allen Martinez play a game and feed carrots to a rabbit box during the morning pre-K class at The Children’s Place in Arlington.
Lisa Ben-Shalom and Allen Martinez play a game and feed carrots to a rabbit box during the morning pre-K class at The Children’s Place in Arlington. Special to the Star-Telegram

Arlington school trustees are trying to do something that’s either quite crafty or completely ignores reality. We’ll see how it turns out.

The district has received notice from the Texas Education Agency that it could be eligible for an extra $1.87 million in state funding under the new High-Quality Prekindergarten Grant Program.

The Fort Worth district could be eligible for almost $3.2 million under the same program.

That’s great news. It could mean up to $1,500 per student for 4-year-olds in the program established under House Bill 4 in last year’s legislative session.

The legislation set aside $130 million in state funds for grants to school districts and charter schools. Participation is free for students.

The money is available for qualified districts like Arlington that have half-day pre-K classes, or like Fort Worth that have full-day pre-K.

Gov. Greg Abbott called for an enhanced pre-K effort as last year’s legislative session got underway.

But here’s the rub: The Legislature specified in HB4 what it means by “high quality,” and the standards are tough.

The toughest are for qualified pre-K teachers. Not only must they be certified teachers as Arlington pre-K teachers are today, but they must also meet higher training requirements.

That includes either a Child Development Associate credential or similar certified training in early childhood education, at least eight years’ experience in a nationally accredited child-care program or completion of a district pre-K training program approved by the state education commissioner.

Arlington trustees appreciate the state effort, Trustee Bowie Hogg said. But those tough requirements are something else.

Steven Wurtz, Arlington’s chief academic officer, said the district’s pre-K teachers are already highly qualified under state teacher certification standards, so “why are we adding extra requirements on top of that?”

The answer, most likely, is that’s what it took to pry $130 million out of the cold hands of the conservative Texas Legislature. Could anyone really expect them to turn over that much extra money for school districts to do what they’re already doing?

No, they specified “high quality” and meant it.

Still, Arlington trustees have a strategy that might work. They’ve put it on their legislative agenda to ask lawmakers when they convene next year to remove the extra requirements for teacher training.

It could be wishful thinking, but maybe it’s worth asking.

Arlington trustees also want more money. They must be feeling lucky.

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