Despite the release of $116 million in state pre-K grants this week and despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s claims to the contrary, early education has never been the governor’s top priority. It certainly wasn’t during last year’s legislative session, when the money was appropriated.
The governor’s top priorities then and now were tax cuts and limited government, which includes squeezing education and other programs for children.
The $116 million in pre-K grants pales in comparision to the $3.9 billion – that’s billion, with a b — that Abbott and the legislative majority approved in tax cuts last year. The lion’s share of those cuts — $2.6 billion – were to the state’s main business tax. And state leaders left several billion additional dollars in the bank, rather than invest in the children they claim to support.
So Texas still spends much less per student on education than most states, while enrollment continues to grow by about 85,000 students per year. And Abbott already has asked the Legislature to continue shortchanging schools when lawmakers convene in January.
About half of the state’s school districts received the pre-K grants. But they will receive only $734 per student, about half of the $1,500 per kid that Abbott had dangled in front of the schools if they agreed to impose “tougher” pre-K standards.
The new grant program doesn’t even completely restore the $200 million that the legislative majority cut from pre-K in 2011. And it doesn’t fund full-day pre-K, despite research showing that full-day pre-K is much more effective, particularly for low-income children, who now account for about 60 percent of Texas’ public school enrollment.
As the AP story linked below points out, the Duncanville school district from which Abbott graduated was among more than 20 districts that applied for a pre-K grant but ended up passing on the money.
“It kind of became diminishing returns,” a Duncanville spokeswoman explained.
Abbott no doubt will continue to talk about how important pre-K is, but his commitment doesn’t match his rhetoric.