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The latest available fiscal note dated April 30, 2015 the Legislative Budget Board noted the following.
Estimated Two-year Net Impact to General Revenue Related Funds for HB4, As Engrossed: a negative impact of ($525,024,611) through the biennium ending August 31, 2017 based on the cost of funding the formula amount specified in the legislation. The bill limits the allocation to districts for the program to the greater of $130,000,000 or the amount appropriated for the 2016-17 biennium. Costs discussed in this estimate are based on funding all students estimated to be eligible for the program at the per-pupil not to exceed rate specified in the bill.
HB 4 would amend Education Code to create a new High Quality Prekindergarten Program that will be provided free to students who meet current eligibility requirements for the existing state funded pre-k program and who are 4 years of age as of September 1 of the year they begin the program. The commissioner would be directed to establish a funding program for school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to implement the program.
In order to establish the foundation for the program, the bill would amend Subchapter B, Chapter 8, Education Code by adding Section 8.058 that would allow regional education service centers to offer a Child Development Associate credential to teachers. Other conforming changes are made in Education Code.
A school district would be eligible for half-day funding under the Foundation School Program. A school district would be entitled to receive additional funding from the commissioner for each qualifying student in average daily attendance. A school district would also receive additional funding if the student is 4 years of age when they begin the program.
HB 4 would require a school district to select and implement a prekindergarten program curriculum that includes guidelines established by the agency and measures the progress of students in meeting recommended learning outcomes. Each teacher would be required to be certified under Subchapter B, Chapter 21 and possess a Child Development Associate credential.
School districts would be required to develop a parent engagement plan for the program.
HB 4 would require school districts to evaluate the program by measuring student progress and make the data available to parents. The commissioner would be required to evaluate the effectiveness of the funding for the program and make a report to the legislature by December 1, 2018. A school district that offers the program would be required to include data in the Public Education Information Management System about the class size and ratio of staff to students and assessment methods administered.
A school district would be allowed to contract with an eligible private provider to provide services or equipment for the program.
For the purpose of this vote recommendation, HB 4 will be evaluated in two different areas; the principle-based case for opposing free prekindergarten programs and the policy-based case for opposing free prekindergarten programs.
Principles of Liberty
Abridging Limited Government
HB 4 would abridge the principle of limited government. The principle of limited government can be affirmed or abridged by a change in the size and scope of government, as well as changes in spending by government. The proposed program in this bill would change both negatively. According to the Legislative Budget Board, this program would cost approximately more than $500 million over each biennium, which is a significant increase in spending. The government does have a Texas Constitution-mandated role in providing K-12 education to children and the current state-funded prekindergarten program is optional for families of the eligible population and the school districts.
The state currently mandates that districts provide half-day pre-k for free if population conditions are met. However, HB 4 as reported to the Senate says “Notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter, a prekindergarten program implemented under this subchapter may operate on a full-day basis.” While not mandatory, it is an option that will be taken advantage of. This is a clear expansion of state funded pre-k.
Abridging Free Market
HB 4 would abridge the principle of a free market. Government is simply not able to consistently provide high quality programs when ultimately they end up working for the providers, not the customers. A market based approach where customers signal high quality based on where they spend their money is not able to take place when the government intervenes. Furthermore, the private sector in Texas is already flourishing with pre-k programs offered by secular and faith-based institutions alike. The government should not interfere with the private sector by providing a competing service for "free". HB 4 would expand what the state is already doing in this area. Finally, while participation in a public pre-k system would be voluntary under this legislation it requires little imagination to foresee a future campaign to make participation mandatory which would further increase costs, undercut the free market, and infringe on individual liberty and parental rights.
The Illusion of ‘High Quality’
Attempting to create a ‘high quality’ government pre-kindergarten program is not advisable, given the extraordinary quality control issues concerning public schools already operated by the government and the precariousness of justifiable principles on which government education was created. Additionally, there is research that suggests that a teacher possessing a BA degree and the quality of preschool classrooms have no significant impact on the learning outcomes of preschoolers (See 1) Diane M. Early et al., “Teachers’ Education, Classroom Quality, and Young Children’s Academic Skills: Results from Seven Studies of Preschool Programs,” Child Development 78, no. 2 (2007): 558–80 and 2) Terri J. Sabol and Robert C. Pianta, “Do Standard Measures of Preschool Quality Used in Statewide Policy Predict School Readiness?” Education Finance and Policy 9, no. 2 (2014): 116–64). Therefore, the very idea of ‘high quality’ conferring an improvement on the futures of preschoolers is suspect and debatable.
While some argue that the cost of the legislation is lower than that estimated by the fiscal note, we cannot ignore the fiscal analysis by the Legislative Budget Board since the agency is considered to be the independent authority. Every legislator and every outside organization uses the information they provide as a guide when considering the merits of a bill. For our purposes, we cannot ignore this fiscal note of more than a half billion dollars for the biennium. The bill as reported to the House had no provision limiting the overall cost of the bill. As reported to the Senate floor the bill contains a spending cap of the greater of $130 million or the amount appropriated for this purpose by the legislatures. The appropriations bill has not been passed so no one knows at this point what the appropriation will be. Furthermore, the 84th Legislature cannot bind the hands of future appropriators. There will likely be pressure in the future to add to that figure and expand the cost of the program further.
The bill goes on to say “In addition to funding under Subsection (a), a school district is entitled to receive funding in an amount determined by the commissioner for each qualifying student described under Subsection (c) in average daily attendance in a program class. The commissioner may not establish an amount of funding per qualifying student under this subsection that exceeds $1,500.” The version reported to the House floor did not include the last sentence capping average daily attendance funding at $1,500. The language is vague and ripe for mischief in hands of those who do wish to establish a universal pre-k program.
As a final point on the idea of a statutory spending cap we note that when the legislature first past CHIP there was a hard spending cap in that legislation as well. That statutory spending cap did not hold and the CHIP program has grown into a significant item in the budget.
The Golden Ticket of Pre-K
From a results-based, policy perspective, HB 4 still is not supportable. There are only two programs that research has agreed showed some positive results; Perry Preschool of the 1960s and Abecedarian of the 1970s. Both these programs involved very small numbers of children, were much more expensive, and staffed by highly qualified and highly motivated people. The results of those two early programs have not been replicated. Studies of state programs, such as Tennessee, typically do not show any lasting positive benefits. The federal early education programs, Head Start and Early Head Start, have also not shown lasting positive benefits and even show some negative results.
Obviously, individuals on different sides of the debate can trade studies
back and forth on the merits of preschool. There is even debate on the research
designs used in the evaluation of preschool programs. It is academically dishonest, however, by
those who support state preschool programs to argue that research on this
matter is settled and that preschool is the magic panacea for the learning outcomes of the educationally
disadvantaged. Given the amount of debate that still exists
and has taken place for decades on this topic, it is careless to continue
investing in a state preschool program.
There should be thoughtful consideration of whether this policy actually
works by taking a step back, rather than an exceedingly irresponsible step forward.
Future Expansion of Pre-K
We are deeply concerned that the same forces that fight for limitless public education funding and fight to keep truancy treated as a criminal matter will push equally as hard for universal, full-day, mandatory pre-k. They already speak of it openly now as noted in the HRO report. Requiring the level of education and certification that would be required for pre-k teachers under this legislation entrenches the professional class of teacher and brings along all the usual associated policy agendas. Allowing for average daily attendance funding incentivizes greater attendance which leads to increased class sizes which drives costs up further, and as we are learning from some of the legislation under consideration this session, leads to harsh truancy laws. Allowing districts to offer full-day pre-k programs exacerbates both of the above issues and will increase costs.
Overall, the legislation constitutes an expansion of the current state funded pre-k program. We oppose state pre-k programs on principle, including the current program that exists today. Even the architect of the federal Head Start program, Dr. Edward F. Zigler, wrote in 1987 that “there is a positive danger in asserting that the solution to the poor school and later life performance of the disadvantaged will be solved by a year of preschool education.” Promoting this idea is a disservice to well-intentioned parents.
One of the biggest issues that comes from putting emphasis on ‘high quality’ pre-k is that it distracts from the real problem in state education. The real problem is that children experience an erosion of educational quality throughout their years in the state school system. The state cannot provide a high quality educational system. A solution to fixing educational quality of schools is to provide more choice in education. Allow parents to use those funds that they would otherwise pay to the state in the form of taxes and allow parents to choose where to put their child in school.