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Texas Education Agency Recommends Pre-K Class Size Limits

Robert W. Hart
Pre-kindergarten students at the Dallas Independent School District's Cesar Chavez Learning Center.

To improve pre-kindergarten education, Texas schools should keep class sizes small and student-teacher ratios low, according to a newly released state report.

The study, conducted by the Texas Education Agency and the Department of Family and Protective Services, recommended a limit of 22 children and a student-teacher ratio of 11 to 1 for pre-kindergarten classes.

The report was mandated by a 2015 law championed by Gov. Greg Abbott that created a $118 million pre-kindergarten grant program. The findings are based on a review of national research as well as observations in classrooms across the state.

During the 2015 legislative session, many pre-k advocates pushed to require class size limits in Abbott's initiative, which was aimed at spurring high quality early childhood education. Lawmakers declined, saying such limits would put too big a burden on school districts. State law currently requires a 22 to 1 student-teacher ratio in kindergarten through fourth grade, though districts can apply for waivers to exceed it.

According to the study's analysis of 3,000 pre-k classrooms, Texas programs currently have an average class size of 17. Eighty-seven percent of them had class sizes of 22 or few students. While the report recommends a class size limit at 22, it goes on to say that a preponderance of evidence in the literature review suggests that classes not exceed 20 students, a standard that 72 percent of Texas pre-k classrooms meet.

Abbott's pre-k grant program, which requires certified teachers and a parental engagement plan among other things, faced an uphill battle last year in a highly conservative Legislature, where many Republicans dismissed it as unnecessary government overreach. The legislation ended up passing overwhelmingly, but so little money was allocated that 21 mostly smaller school districts declined funding because it didn’t cover the cost of compliance.

Lawmakers revisited the battle over the effectiveness of the program during an August meeting of the Senate Education Committee. Republicans on the panel sparred over the state's investment in the initiative, calling for more data on its results.

Read more of the Tribune's related coverage here:

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2016/09/06/texas-education-agency-recommends-pre-k-class-size/.