Days after making early childhood education his top priority upon taking office, Gov. Greg Abbott visited an HISD elementary pre-K program and renewed his call for state support in providing a solid foundation for the state’s youngsters.
The governor and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams toured pre-K, kindergarten and first-grade classrooms at the School at St. George Place Thursday afternoon and observed its full-day pre-K program for four-year-olds. That was followed by a roundtable with HISD leaders.
Abbott said that what he observed validated that “a one-size-fits-approach doesn’t work” and that early learning is developmental and requires additional attention. He explained that his proposal would allow schools to make their own decisions about how funding is used. “What we think is important is it gives you flexibility because the reality is the people who know it best are the people on the ground, in the school, in the classroom.”
Abbott is proposing $200 million next year to fund half-day pre-K programs throughout Texas. Ashlea Graves, HISD’s legislative liaison, said HISD is committed to full-day programs and “welcomes the chance to showcase what we do so well to a governor who’s committed to early childhood education.”
“We’re hoping that he was impressed by our high standards and that they can be used as a benchmark for statewide standards as the governor and TEA move forward with this important advancement for early childhood education,” Graves said.
She said HISD would stand to gain about $1,500 per pre-K pupil under Abbott’s funding proposal, which would be administered through TEA, and would make the district less dependent on federal Title I funds.
HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said she was pleased to hear the governor “validate our position in allocating funding for early education…remediating in third-grade is much more expensive than investing money up-front.”
Abbott said he is looking to HISD to help his administration in “educating legislators.”
HISD is part of Early Matters, a coalition of more than 50 school districts and stakeholders that is advocating for increased state funding, wider access for four-year-olds (and eventually three-year-olds), plus quality standards for the area’s early childhood education programs over the next decade.
St. George’s diverse population speaks 27 languages, and a welcoming committee of pupils greeted the governor in six of those languages.
In addition to the pre-K program, the School at St. George Place offers English-as-a-second-language instruction, is an International Baccalaureate campus, has a neighborhood Vanguard program for gifted-and-talented students, and a variety of self-contained special education classes for special needs youngsters.