The Texas education commissioner has informed federal officials the state intends to seek a $30 million grant that would expand pre-kindergarten opportunities. That would include increasing enrollment for non-English speaking students and possible all-day pre-K.
While the two gubernatorial candidates debate how pre-K should be run, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams wants to make sure Texas has the financial resources for increasing pre-K opportunities.
“Right now we pay for a half-day program and not all children are eligible to go to free pre-K programs under state," said Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency. "So this grant could allow us to expand more half-day programs to more centers or possibly expand full-day programs.”
Ratcliffe said there is a clear need for expansion: In 2013 there were over 225,000 students enrolled in pre-K programs and that same year the state had over 385,000 kindergarten students.
Right now under state law, non-English-speaking students, low-income children and military dependents are eligible for free pre-K, but without funding many school districts quickly run out of room.
“First and foremost it’s likely to mean serving more children that fall into those categories,” Ratcliffe said.
But she said who is eligible for free pre-K could be changing during the upcoming 2015 legislative session. Federal officials will notify the TEA in December whether they approved the pre-K expansion grant.