In an unexpected twist, Commissioner of Education Michael Williams’ application for federal funds to build, develop and expand preschool programs in Texas contains a proposal that would award $8,000 vouchers that could be used for private pre-K programs.

The Texas Pre-K Expansion Grant (PEG) proposal, which TEA submitted to the U.S. Department of Education in fall 2014, contains four pre-K delivery models. Model 4 provides for $8,000 vouchers to be awarded via a lottery system to approximately 3,000 to 5,000 eligible students each of the four years of the grant. The vouchers could be used to attend public or private full-day pre-K programs that meet certain criteria. Private programs would have to be accredited by the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission.

Given the long-standing opposition to vouchers (due to their diversion of public funds to private schools) by the Texas education community and Texas Legislature, TCTA, as a member of the Texas Public Schools Coalition, joined in submitting a letter of objection to the voucher component of the application to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Duncan has historically and publicly been opposed to vouchers, so it remains to be seen how Texas’ proposal will be received by the USDE.

What is the federal Preschool Development Grants Program?

Jointly administered by the USDE and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the new Preschool Development Grants Program was designed to award federal funds through a competitive process to help states build, develop and expand voluntary, high-quality preschool programs for low- and moderate-income families.

The Texas application is for a four-year grant, funded at $30 million per year. Approximately 27 states have applied for grants. The USDE is expected to award seven or eight grants by mid-December 2014.

What is the current state of Texas public pre-K funding?

Texas pays for half-day preschool programs for public school students from low-income, non-English-speaking or military families. In an initial budget proposal submitted in summer 2014, TEA again requested $15 million per year for pre-K programs for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 budget cycle. 

At least one of the four models contained in Texas’ Preschool Grant proposal is dedicated to expanding half-day programs operated by Texas public school districts to full-day programs. 

Texas’ grant application concludes that, with the federal funding, the total number of new slots for pre-K students would be 17,900; the total number of enhanced slots would be 39,600. This would be a 25.4 percent increase — 57,500 children — of eligible children served in high-quality preschool programs compared with 2013-14 state enrollment.

See also:

Federal definition of high-quality preschool programs

Four preschool models in Texas’ federal Preschool Development Grant application