Legislature votes to fund pre-K


GISD to see benefits from Gov. Abbott’s top priority

When voters in the Gonzales Independent School District approved a bond measure last year, they were authorizing school leaders to forge ahead on a vision of early education in the creation of a new pre-kindergarten campus, known now as the Gonzales Primary Academy.

Now, state leaders have made their job easier.

When Governor Greg Abbott took office, he made early education one of his top legislative goals. The bill, HB 4, passed the Texas House last month on one of its final steps to opening up $130 million for pre-K students.

Here at home, GISD Superintendent Dr. Kim Strozier was paying attention to the legislative tussle.

“When I saw that I was elated,” Strozier said.

She had just come out of a planning session with district heads where they found that preliminary values were going to be down about $1 billion than they were last year. They were also looking at a $5 million payment they will have to send to the state as part of their property-rich Chapter 41 status, so added income was great news to Strozier.

“Anything that will give us the benefit of bringing dollars into the district is a great thing at this point in time,” she said.

The district is still feeling the effects of the $200 million in cuts to statewide pre-K funding made during the 2011 legislative session. Due to a projected budget shortfall, lawmakers slashed funds across the state, hitting education especially hard. Since then, it has been up to individual districts to pay for their own pre-K.

Even though the $130 million is great news to schools, it still hasn’t restored funding to pre-2011 levels.

The new law will use grants to dole out up to $1,500 per student. There will be guidelines and benchmarks to follow, but those have not been decided upon yet. So Strozier and company wait until the state tells them just exactly how they can apply for the funds.

But when it happens, it will be a benefit for Gonzales.

“That’s huge for us. That would really help us opening our new GPA (Gonzales Primary Academy) and paid personnel,” she said.

Currently GISD offers full-day pre-K to children in military families, those who are economically disadvantaged or those who have a limited grasp of English. Since the state will only fund for half-day pre-K, GISD must co-pay the other half.

“We feel that every kid should be able to go to pre-K,” Strozier said. “Research shows that if children attend pre-K, then they have a step up.”

Several legislators did not seem to grasp what educational professionals have been saying, that early education sets the stage for a successful learning career. Elected officials like Rep. Jonathan Strickland (R-Bedford) and Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) stood in the way of the legislation, turning the debate into partisan politics and accused pre-K programs of ripping children away from their mothers and indoctrinating them into a life of socialism. Even a panel of “grassroots advisors” cobbled together by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called pre-K “a threat to parental rights” and a “Godless environment” that showed no benefits after 1st grade.

Fortunately, a supermajority of lawmakers, including Gonzales’ own voting delegation, saw merit in Gov. Abbott’s proposal and sent the bill to his desk for his signature.

On May 28, he made it official in a signing ceremony in Austin.

Strozier has been doing a good job making sure that the cuts that GISD had did not affect the classroom instruction or its educators. When the new pre-K campus opens early next year, she looks forward to using all resources available locally and from the state to give students the education they deserve.