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Preschool enrollment in Texas is rising, but state spending is stagnating

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

The study found that enrollment of 3- and 4-year-olds increased by more than 21,000 in 2022-2023 compared to the previous year. There were 243,592 children enrolled in Texas programs last school year. State spending on these programs totaled $938,418,031, while the federal government contributed an additional $2,400,000 in tax dollars.

While spending increased by $11 million compared to last year, the study shows that figure represents only a 1% increase. Adjusted for inflation, state spending per student fell from $5,735 in 2002 to just $4,235 per student in 2022-2023.

“With the pandemic in the background, it is time for state and federal policymakers to decide whether and how to support high-quality preschool,” Allison Friedman-Krauss, lead author of the report and assistant professor for NIEER, said in a statement, as reported by K-12Dive reported.

The study provides a quality checklist of 10 benchmarks that show how state preschool programs perform. The report shows Texas meets only four of the 10 benchmarks.

Texas received check marks for policies that provide “comprehensive, aligned, supported, and culturally sensitive” preschool educational opportunities, state laws that require educators to have a bachelor's degree, state policies that require specialized preschool education, and policies that require visual, hearing, and vaccination screening.

Texas missed the mark on seven counts, including benchmarks such as class size, training standards for teaching assistants and limits on teacher-to-student ratios. The study found that at the national level, inadequate tax spending is a cause of states failing to meet benchmarks, while regions that allow local control are even more likely to meet fewer than five benchmarks.

The study found that about 52% of 4-year-olds in Texas attend state-funded preschool programs and another 6% attend Head Start programs. The authors note that some children counted in Head Start programs may also be included in state program counts.

“Research clearly shows that children who attend a high-quality preschool are better prepared when they walk through the kindergarten door, laying the foundation for later success,” Steven Barnett, executive co-director and founder of NIEER, said in a statement Explanation.

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Anna Harden

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