Texas Educators Worried by Proposed Pre-K Cuts

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AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas Senate Committee on Finance tentatively gutted pre-K funding in its preliminary budget proposal for the next two years.

The Committee Chair, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said it could be funded in other ways. She said lawmakers may scrap Gov. Greg Abbott's plan in favor of one that benefits every program.

"We are looking at components that we could take and make sure that all of the pre-K we are providing is quality pre-K," Sen. Nelson said.

Gov. Abbott wants lawmakers to put $236 million toward a pre-K grant program he championed in 2015, known as High Quality Pre-K. The money is given to school districts that promise to meet certain requirements outlined in the program.

"Ultimately, [lawmakers] take $180 million out of pre-K and put $40 million back in, in a brand new way that nobody's heard of," said Monty Exter of the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

Exter said he's worried that lawmakers are crafting an entirely new program halfway through the Legislative Session.

Last month, House Finance members also proposed gutting the Governor's program. They want to put the money in a supplemental fund that would go to all school districts offering pre-K.

In the meantime, lawmakers have placed pre-K funding on what Exter said amounts to a "wish list."

"The thing about that wish list is most of the things that are on that list never see the light of day at the end of the road," he said.

"Our goal, as far as education is concerned, is that every child gets a good education, including those in pre-K," Sen. Nelson said.

Gov. Abbott's office issued a statement expressing his displeasure with the decisions in both chambers.

"It's incomprehensible that the Senate is jeopardizing the future of Texas students by depriving them of high quality pre-K, instead forcing them into an unaccountable program," spokesman John Wittman said.

While the Senate Committee on Finance removed Pre-K funding from its proposed budget, Thursday it gave preliminary approval to adding $316 million toward a shortfall in the Teacher Retirement System, $171 million in additional funding for the Department of Family and Protective Services and $85 million toward behavioral health.

The Committee reconvenes Wednesday.

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