HISD Fights To Regain Pre-K Funding In State Legislature

Jillian Schertle's class at Farias Early Childhood Center in North Houston.
In the Houston Independent School District, more than 16,000 kids attend prekindergarten. Most of them come from low-income homes and know little English. From the KUHF Education Desk, Laura Isensee reports why preK is so important for HISD this year in the Texas Legislature.

At Farias Early Childhood Center, Jillian Schertle reads a book to her students.

“One fine afternoon a young princess put on her cape, picked up her favorite toy, a golden ball, and went outside to play.”

Five-year-old Elias Ramos already knows the ending.

“It’s about a frog that turns into a prince.”

By the time he finishes pre-K, Elias should be ready to read himself.

Schertle teaches her students shapes, numbers and letters.

“A, B, C, D, E, F, G”

“Our day is packed. In fact, I feel like I never have enough time to finish everything that we’re doing. “

She also teaches important social skills.

“Someone takes another child’s crown and at the beginning of the year, it’s an outburst it’s a fit, it’s crying, It’s, ‘She took my crown.’ But then by the end of the year, they have the words to say, you took my crown, give it back.’”

Now Houston and other school districts are telling state lawmakers, “You took our pre-K funding, please give it back.”

In 2011 the state cut $200 million dollars in grant money that helped pay for full-day pre-K.

The state still pays for half-day programs. But those cuts had a big impact. Robert Sanborn with the group Children at Risk explains.

“We know that 9 percent of school district across the state of Texas have eliminated anything that they could in regards of pre-k.   Many full day pre-k programs have been eliminated and moved out to half day and whenever half day programs could be eliminated, those were as well.”

At Farias, principal Ali Oliver says the smaller budget means bigger pre-K classes.

“Last year when they cut a lot of funding, it really affected us, I mean we’ve lost our social worker, we lost our librarian, but we compensate in other areas, my teachers go above and beyond in terms of stepping up to the plate, they do a lot more with a lot less.”

Overall the Houston Independent School District lost five million dollars for pre-K.

“That’s why HISD is having to transfer title monies from other programs in HISD to fund our full day program.”

preKThat’s Alison Heath with HISD.  She says programs like teacher training and graduation labs lost money.

She says it’s worth it because pre-K can prevent expensive academic problems later on. She points to one study by Texas A&M University.

“They found for every dollar invested in early childhood that over a short period of time society would gain $3.50 cents for every dollar and then over time it would be 17 dollars for every dollar spent.”

In the state Legislature, at least one bill for full day prekindergarten programs has been filed.

But Heath hopes lawmakers will eventually include prekindergarten in the main school finance formula. That way it won’t depend on separate grants.

From the KUHF Education Desk, I’m Laura Isensee.

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...