Texas Pre-K Enrollment Rising, State Spending Stalls

Preschool classroom
Preschool classroom | Image by Cavan Images/Getty Images

A report by the National Institute for Early Education Research on the state of preschool enrollment and spending in the United States found that enrollment in Texas pre-K programs is on the rise while spending remains flat.

The study revealed that enrollment rose by more than 21,000 3- and 4-year-olds in 2022-2023 over the previous year. There were 243,592 children enrolled in Texas programs during the last school year. Spending by the state on these programs totaled $938,418,031, while the federal government contributed an additional  $2,400,000 in taxpayer money.

While spending was up by $11 million over the previous year, the study shows that the figure represents just a 1% increase. When adjusted for inflation, state spending per student declined from $5,735 in 2002 to just $4,235 per student in 2022-2023.

“With the pandemic in the rearview, it is time for state and federal leaders to choose whether and how they are going to support high-quality preschool,” Allison Friedman-Krauss, the report’s lead author and assistant research professor for NIEER, said in a statement, as reported by K-12Dive.

The study provides a quality checklist with 10 benchmarks to indicate how state pre-K programs measure up. The report indicates that Texas meets just four of the 10 benchmarks.

Texas received checkmarks for policy areas that provide “comprehensive, aligned, supported, culturally sensitive” pre-K education opportunities, state law requiring educators to hold a bachelor’s degree, state policy requiring specialized pre-K training, and policies requiring vision, hearing, and immunization screening.

Texas missed the mark on seven points, including benchmarks like classroom size, training and education standards for assistant teachers, and limits on the educator-to-student ratio. The study identified that, on a national level, inadequate taxpayer spending is one cause of states not reaching benchmarks, while regions that allow local control are even more likely to meet fewer than five benchmarks.

The study identified that about 52% of 4-year-olds in Texas attend state-funded pre-K programs, and an additional 6% are enrolled in Head Start programs. The authors note that some children counted in Head Start programs may also be included in the state program counts.

“The research is crystal clear that children who attend high-quality preschool are better prepared when they enter the kindergarten door, laying a foundation for later success,” Steven Barnett, NIEER’s senior co-director and founder, said in a statement.

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