Making Democracy Work

Early Childhood

Education is a top priority issue for the League of Women Voters of Texas. The League of Women Voters of Texas takes actions and advocates league positions on education Issues based upon grass roots consensus at local, state, and national levels.

Updates from Marlene Lobberecht (Cy-Fair) Early Childhood Issue Chair

Under state law, Texas school districts are required to offer at least a half day (3 hours) of voluntary pre-k to four-year-olds who: are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, are learning English, have been in foster care, have a parent who is on active duty with the military or was killed or injured on active duty, or are homeless. School districts are exempt if fewer than 15 eligible students request pre-k. The per-student formula funding that the state provides to each school district pays for half-day pre-k for each student. Texas pre-k served 221,101 children during the 2015-2016 school year.

The Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium issued a preliminary analysis of the 2015 Texas Legislature approved HB 4 creating a High-Quality Pre-K Grant Program. This HB 4 grant analysis of school district enrollment and demographics using TEA data provided the following key findings:

1) There is high demand for HB 4 funding. 530 public and 43 charter districts received HB 4 grants educating 189,810 pre-k students during the 2015-2016 school year, representing 86 percent of the state's pre-k enrollment.

2) HB 4 grants are serving pre-k students in school districts across the economic spectrum with more concentrated in higher poverty districts because significantly more pre-k students are in higher poverty districts (68 percent) compared to 9 percent in lower poverty districts.

3) School districts with more than 100 pre-k students were much more likely to participate in HB 4 compared to smaller districts. Ninety-one percent of pre-k students in districts with a pre-k enrollment above 100 students benefited from the HB 4 grants when compared to smaller school districts and charter districts.

4) The relatively low level of per-student funding provided to districts through HB 4 may limit the effectiveness of the grant program. Funding provided to school districts totaled $734 per student, approximately half of the amount originally envisioned in the Governor's proposal.

5) HB 4 application rates were lower in certain regions of the state, even when accounting for the size of school districts. Among school districts with more than 100 pre-k students, only fifty-one percent of districts in Education Service Center (ESC) Region 11 (Fort Worth) applied while a mere 15 percent of those in Region 16 (Amarillo) applied, falling short of application rates for districts with more than 100 pre-k students in other ESC Regions.

Report Recommendations for Ensuring the Success of HB 4 were to:

  • Ensure HB 4 per-student funding is adequate to meet the goals of the legislation, providing at a minimum $236 million for the 2018-2019 biennium (i.e., continuing the current funding level of $118 million per school year).
  • Offer school districts more certainty by providing HB 4 funding through the state's education formula funding system.
  • Work with school districts, community leaders, and Education Service Centers to ensure that all districts, particularly those with lower application rates, have the information and support they need to apply for HB 4 grants if they wish to participate in the future.
  • Monitor the implementation of HB 4 to ensure districts comply with the law's requirements.
  • Consider the low level of HB 4 per-student funding during evaluation of the grant program's effectiveness.

Recommendations for Additional Steps to Improve Pre-k in Texas:
  • Support community and school district priorities for expansion of quality pre-k, whether the priorities are increased access for three-year-olds, offering more full-day options, strengthened parent engagement, additional partnerships with child care or Head Start, or other efforts.
  • Provide state funding to interested school districts for expanding from half-day to full-day pre-k.
  • Establish a statewide limit on pre-k class size and pre-k student-teacher ratios as recommended by national standards and the 2016 study commissioned by TEA.
  • Identify opportunities for additional pre-k program improvements using the data on class size, student ratios, student progress, and other program characteristics that all districts will submit to TEA under new HB 4 requirements.

With 31 percent of our 2,352,055 Texas children ages birth through five years from low-income families, pre-k will continue to be an issue.

Bills that LWV-Texas are following:

  • HB 168 (Lucio III) SUPPORT creates a voluntary program to recognize licensed before-school and after-school programs that promote healthy eating and physical activity.
  • HB 188 (Bernal) SUPPORT relates to ten students/teacher ratios for prekindergarten classes in public schools.
  • HB 196 (M. Gonzalez) HB 710 (Wu) & companion SB 35 (Zaffirini) SUPPORT relates to providing free full-day prekindergarten for certain children.
  • HB 357 (Huberty) SUPPORT relates to the eligibility of the children of Star of TX first responders for free prekindergarten programs in public schools.
  • HB 480 (Burkett) WATCH relates to open-enrollment charter schools that provide only prekindergarten programs. Requests grants, but presently doesn't specify any quality components or other standards.
  • HB 482 (Walle) SUPPORT relates to employee caseload limit goals for child and adult protective services and child-care licensing services and call processing goals for certain of those services.
  • HB 674 (E. Johnson) SUPPORT relates to the suspension of a student younger than six years of age from public school.
  • HB 740 (Burkett) SUPPORT relates to application and specifies license fees for certain child-care facilities and child-placing agencies.
  • HB 751 (Farrar) SUPPORT relates to state agency authority to establish an employee child-care subsidy programs based on income.
  • HB 842 (Burrows) SUPPORT relates to prohibiting the purchase of certain food and drink items under the supplemental nutrition assistance program.

12/30/16

U.S. Dept. of Ed. Policy Statement on Meeting the Needs of Families with Young Children Experiencing and At Risk of Homelessness, October 31, 2016.

Excerpt from the report: Recent data indicate that among persons & age group who seek shelter because they are homeless in the United States includes newborns or infants in the first year of life, and followed next by children ages one to five. Very troubling given that research suggests that homelessness during pregnancy and in the early years is harmful to children's development. The data and research warrant immediate attention from policymakers as well as State and local early childhood and housing and homeless providers and community leaders. This policy statement highlights recent research and resources, and provides three major recommendations aimed at local and State early childhood, housing, and homeless providers to consider when addressing the unique needs of pregnant women and families with young children who are experiencing homelessness, or who are at risk of experiencing homelessness.

Read the full report here

10/19/16

The Early Childhood Issue Chair submitted testimony to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) as they review and update regulations pertaining to the Minimum Standards for Licensed Child Care Centers and other child care settings. DFPS regulations affect the health, safety, well-being, and optimal development of Texas children while in care outside the home.

Reviewing the proposed changes, the League requested DFPS support the following changes which:

  • lower the child to caregiver ratios and group sizes for 18 months and 27 months of age as current ratios are higher than 49-50 states
  • encourage outdoor play to promote a reduction in the 32% Texas child obesity rate
  • revise standards to reflect the nutrition requirements of the TX obesity prevention program

Texas child care centers responding to the Workforce Commission Texas Rising Star surveys lowered their child/staff ratio and group sizes noting 40% fewer serious incidents in their centers. Child Care Licensing needs to resume data collection statewide to review the ratios/group size connection to serious incidents.

9/29/16

Texans Care for Children's Ensuring the Success of HB 4 & Texas Students: A Preliminary Analysis of the Texas High-Quality Pre-k Grant Program, highlights a solid start to the Pre-K grant program with recommendations for additional steps. Key findings:

  • high demand
  • serving children across the economic spectrum
  • larger school districts more apt to apply
  • low level per student funding may limit effectiveness
  • varying regional request for funding rate.

Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, the Rio Grande Valley, and Waco will conduct more locally-focused assessments of HB 4 implementation and community Pre-K priorities prior to the 2017 legislative session.

(9/1/16)Texas Public Prekindergarten Class Size and Student-to-Teacher Ratio Study

Under TEC § 29.1545, added by HB 4 (84th Texas Legislature, Regular Session), TEA was required to conduct a joint study with the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to develop recommendations regarding optimal class sizes and student-to-teacher ratios for public prekindergarten programs in Texas. The study's recommendations were to be based on data collected from prekindergarten programs, including high-quality prekindergarten programs under Subchapter E-1, reported through PEIMS (Public Education Information Management System) as well as observations of best practices and examples from effective prekindergarten programs across the state.

The study report and executive summary

Past Blogs

Testimony

Coalitions and Resources

  • Texas Cares for Children Texas Cares for Children provides education and advocacy concerning child protective services; juvenile justice; mental wellness; health and fitness; and early childhood education and opportunities.

Resources:

Data

Acronyms: What does that mean?

Position LWV-TX

CHILD CARE/EARLY CHILDHOOD + 1990, 1995, 2009 The League of Women Voters of Texas supports policies, legislation, and programs that address the needs of all Texas children and families for accessible, affordable, and quality child care.

The League believes that all children in child care are entitled to a safe, nurturing environment and developmentally appropriate activities. Caring for children is a societal as well as a family responsibility and the state should play a role in meeting child care needs. The League supports the development, adoption, and implementation of a comprehensive state child care policy that includes, but is not limited to:

  • programs designed to provide an adequate supply of accessible child care

  • access to information that will help families recognize and choose quality child care

  • a provision for parental choice in the selection of subsidized child care

  • programs designed to make child care affordable to all

  • consistent and reliable funding, administered efficiently, and used effectively

  • financial support from a variety of sources including federal grants and matching funds, state funds, local government funds, employer contributions, fees for service, private philanthropy

  • minimum standards, effectively enforced, for child care services

  • measures to promote quality child care

  • coordination of child care programs, services, and funding

  • encouragement of cooperation among groups and agencies

  • a state model-employer program that makes quality, affordable child care available to state employees.

Position LWV-US

CHILD CARE-

Support programs, services and policies at all levels of government to expand the supply of affordable, quality child care for all who need it, in order to increase access to employment and to prevent and reduce poverty.

EARLY INTERVENTION FOR CHILDREN AT RISK-

Support policies and programs at all levels of the community and government that promote the well-being, encourage the full development and ensure the safety of all children.

Issue Studies and Explanation

Explanation: Child Care/Early Childhood

At the 1989 state Convention delegates adopted a study of Child Care in Texas. The scope of the study included programs, services, availability, standards, enforcement, policies, and affordability. A Facts and Issues, Child Care in Texas: The Roles and Responsibilities of the State, was produced by the study committee and widely circulated to members, child care advocacy groups, and legislators. Consensus was reached in the fall of 1990, with 28 local Leagues participating.

The Child Care position underwent Periodic Program Review during 1993-1995. Several editing changes that clarify meaning were recommended by the PPR Committee and approved by the membership. The re-worded position is set forth above. A recommendation by the PPR Committee for a substantive addition to the position (support of measures to override local restrictions on the location of child care facilities, including family day homes), was rejected by the membership. The name was changed by state board vote in October 2009 to Early Childhood to reflect the prevailing title used in the industry.

History of LWV-TX Action

1991: Child care was a League priority for the 72nd Legislature and was a very active issue because of developments at the federal and state levels. The passage of federal block grant legislation during 1990 made significant new funding available to the state for child care, necessitating substantial policy development and planning by the state. In response, the interim Child Care Task Force of the House Health and Human Services Committee produced comprehensive recommendations addressing policy, planning, quality, and regulation, as well as measures to make child care affordable and available. The task force recommendations were introduced as a package of bills, most of which the League was able to support. The League worked closely during the session with other child care advocates through the Child Care Working Group for passage of these bills. Thanks to strong legislative leadership in both the House and Senate and coordinated advocacy, most of the legislation passed.

This legislation included a resolution setting forth a clear position for the State of Texas on the importance of child care and specific requirements to make child care affordable and available. Other legislation set guidelines for the implementation of federal and state child care programs and established an advisory committee to assist in developing policies for the use of state and federal funds for child care. A League representative was appointed to this committee. Another successful bill related to standards, licensing, and coordination of pre-kindergarten programs.

Several bills the League supported failed to pass because they required additional state funding. These included bills relating to training of child care providers and reimbursement of start-up costs incurred by child care providers, and one mandating a cost-of-care study.

1993: Due to fiscal restraints, few new initiatives for children succeeded in the 73rd Legislature. Most legislation that did pass was of a regulatory or technical nature. Many health and human services programs were under-funded in the 1994-1995 budget. A child care program that enables low-income families to pursue employment or be employed in order to remain off welfare was cut by $8 million, affecting 6000 children. The federal matching funds were diverted to serve four year-olds in communities that have pre-kindergarten programs, thereby subverting the intent of the program.

1994-1995: During the legislative interim, the Texas Board of Regulatory Services adopted stricter minimum standards for child care facilities. The League lobbied in favor of the new standards, contacting board members to urge their support. Unfortunately, the victory was short- lived. The 74th Legislature rolled back key provisions of the new standards, including child/adult ratios, square footage requirements, and group sizes. Prior to future changes to the minimum standards, an independent cost/benefit economic impact study must be completed and sent to the legislature. But implementation of the rolled-back standards was delayed until September 1997. This delay gave advocates for young children, including the League, the opportunity to educate legislators about the components of quality child care.

1997: Early in the session many of the recently strengthened Child Care Minimum Standards were lost to a compromise between child care advocates and legislators, but a number of positive child care bills were eventually passed. Child care professionals and advocates will be able to utilize an appropriation of $34.9 million from general revenue funds to qualify for matching federal funds for child care expenditures being spent, or that can be spent, in their communities. Other bills which passed provide child care training to local workforce boards, establish pilot programs offering child care training to welfare recipients, and mandate a child care representative on local workforce boards. Family home providers are now required to register with the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, pay annual fees, and obey state regulations. Other legislation provides guarantees for small and medium loans for child care businesses and non-profit centers that provide child care services, establishes the Interagency Council on Early Childhood Intervention, and provides school-based child care for latch key kids. The League produced an Advocacy Paper, Quality Child Care for Texas Children: A Sound Investment in the Future.

1999: LWV-TX followed several child care bills and the following measures were successfully passed. A child care resource and referral network will be developed to provide a periodically updated listing of child care providers, including hours of operation and cost, for each county. Professional child care training scholarships and student loan repayment assistance will be offered to child care workers. Additional training on Shaken Baby Syndrome, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and early childhood brain development will be required for child care providers. LWV-TX supported these bills in order to strengthen the quality or affordability of child care in Texas.

2001: The focus of LWV-TX and other child advocates was on adequate funding to ensure that no children in working poor families are removed from child care in the next biennium. There was a slight increase in funding for child care, but it doesn't appear to be sufficient. Only through the reallocation of some unexpended federal Child Care Development Funds was the state's waiting list of approximately 40,000 children as of January 1, 2001 reduced.

2003: During the 78th session, quality initiatives for child care services were reduced through budget cuts. However, legislation passed which requires coordination of early childhood programs and establishes two groups to address the issue of quality early care programs. Even though the need for child care continues to expand, due to the state budget shortfall, fewer children will receive subsidized child care in 2004-5. The newly organized Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition, composed of child care advocates, holds promise for successful future collective action.

2005: Two of the child care bills LWV-TX supported were signed into law. Approximately 50 early care and education bills were filed this session. SB 23 expands the Texas Early Education Model (TEEM), an integrated model of service delivery of early care and education programs (pre-K, child care, Head Start) to increase full-day, full-year quality preschool services. HB 2808 contains an amendment which provided for the appointment of a blue ribbon commission to study early childhood education and development resource needs, financing options to secure adequate funding, as well as identifying barriers to the integration of preschool delivery systems.

Although the Legislative Budget Board (LBB), not a blue ribbon commission, is designated to conduct the study in HB 2808, it does provide an opportunity for advocates to work with leadership on the LBB during the interim. The LBB will conduct a performance review and develop a report to:

  • Study the resource needs of high quality early childhood care and education programs
  • Recommend options for additional funding
  • Develop a plan to implement in phases, full-day preschool programs for at-risk children and to expand the eligibility for early care and education programs.

Promoting quality initiatives and improving access to preschool programs remain as goals on the unfinished League child care agenda.

2007: Mixed results were accomplished by the 80th Legislature with emphasis on state oversight of child care facilities and staff. Additional funding for residential (foster care) licensing was obtained, but no new funding for day care licensing. Proposed cuts to public pre-kindergarten programs were also avoided.

SB50 (Zaffarini) A comprehensive, cooperative and interdisciplinary approach to improve all facets of child care, Pre-K and training of early childhood professionals, stalled in the House and did not pass. However funding for many of the provisions in SB 50 was included in the budget: pre-k services through the Texas Early Education Model, improve reimbursement rates paid to child care participants in Texas Rising Star Certification Program, and funding towards creation of regional development partnership projects to improve the recruitment, retention, and quality of professionals working with young children. A portion of the bill that required school districts to report TPRI reading scores in the school readiness certification system to the State Center for Early Childhood Development was amended onto SB 1871 (Zaffarini) which passed.

SB 758 (Nelson) allows children in the foster care system eligibility for Pre-K, ensuring that children who have been sexually abused, physically assaulted and/or neglected have a leg up before kindergarten, and to remain eligible for public pre-kindergarten after leaving foster care. HB 199 (Madden) addresses the critical first year of a child's life by establishing a residential infant and parenting program for mothers in prison.

The Texas Workforce Commission adopted new background check rules for relatives who are compensated by the state for providing child care in the home. HB 1385 (Villeareal) created a separate level of regulation for small businesses who offer child care on their premises for employees. This bill also included exemptions from child care regulation to some rural private schools and religious education programs.

2009: Update of the program title from Child Care to Early Childhood was approved by the LWV-TX Board of Directors to help better describe the topics in this area of advocacy. The early education movement in Texas this year has grown to be so strong that its only critics are those who opposed any public investment, no matter how solid the research. Since many bills filed for have to do with early childhood education we also act under the LWVUS position on Early Intervention for Children at Risk, adopted in 1994. See the section on National Program action at the end of this publication for action under this position. Also SB 572 (Shapiro) "Jacob's Law," mandates two hours of annual training hours specifically related to the safe transport of children under the age of nine; SB 1646 (Van de Putte) establishes a Council on Children and Families to identify methods to ensure children and youth receive appropriate assessment, diagnoses, and intervention services; HB 136 (Villarreal) requires school districts to notify parents of prekindergarten eligibility; HB 1240 (Villarreal) requires infant care information to be provided to parents. Following the legislative session, Texas Child Care Licensing initiated a review of the current Minimum Standards for center-based and home-based day care operations. The review process will further evaluate child care licensing regulations, addressing expired legislative initiatives, regarding the training provider qualifications and minimum training hour changes for child-care employees/operators facilities.

2011: Ten out of twenty-three bills supported by LWV-TX were signed into law, with eight taking effect 9/1/11. Legislation focused on safety and staff training, specifically increasing child care provider training hours, specifying qualifications for those providing child care training, and allowing the Texas Rising Star child care centers to use comptroller purchasing discount programs. Licensed child care homes will also receive additional fire safety inspections annually by local government, with other safety violations reported directly to child care licensing. Licensure improvements and government-sponsored databases will provide data indicating child care providers who meet minimum standards. Those centers meeting higher quality rating systems standards will also be identifiable for the first time from a state website. (Also see Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) under Health Care for Those of Lesser Means). 2013: Seventeen of the 44 bills were signed into law with only $40 million earmarked specifically for supplemental pre-K funding. With nearly $300 million cut from pre-K programs during the 82nd legislative session, successful bills were low fiscal impact and dealt with early childhood program quality, earlier identification of children with disabilities, Early Childhood Intervention caseload growth, and child care regulation enforcement concentrating on child health and safety of all children.

The advocacy goals since 2005 for quality initiatives and improving access to preschool programs were largely accomplished this session with the success of HB 376 (Strama, et al), SB 50 (Zaffirini) and SB 430 (Nelson). HB 376 prioritized quality components in the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) child care subsidy system with quality programs receiving additional and incremental reimbursement rates. It also provided technical assistance to improve child care centers, required child care quality initiatives for local workforce development boards, and created the establishment of an appointed Texas Rising Star Program Review Work Group to continuously improve the quality of education/care for children on TWC child care subsidies. HB 376 was the result of a statewide work group collaboration, with LWV-TX participating, spending four years to create legislation prioritizing quality care for children on federally funded TWC child care subsidies and resolving the extremely low reimbursement rates providers receive.

SB 50 expanded the composition of the Texas Children's Policy Council adding representation for at-risk and special needs children. SB 430 requires the Department of Family and Protective Services to verify the unavailability of community day care before day-care assistance or services are specified to be provided by foster parents.

The successful Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition consolidated with Texans Care for Children to better serve advocates on priority and crossover issues. Texas early childhood program funding continues to be a concern; local entities are creatively funding pilot projects to gain increased child access to local pre-K programs.

CHILD CARE-

Support programs, services and policies at all levels of government to expand the supply of affordable, quality child care for all who need it, in order to increase access to employment and to prevent and reduce poverty.

LWV-TX Action: Action to strengthen and expand the state's role in child-care programs was taken during the 1985 session in support of legislation enabling the Texas Employment Commission to provide public and private employees information and technical assistance regarding child care. LWV-TX also supported the successful legislation which allows counties to provide child-care services for employees and jurors and to set fees for those programs. Also see the LWV-TX Early Childhood.

EARLY INTERVENTION FOR CHILDREN AT RISK-

Support policies and programs at all levels of the community and government that promote the well-being, encourage the full development and ensure the safety of all children.

LWV-TX Action:

2009: The governor's veto of House Bill 130, despite House and Senate passage of research- based, enhanced quality legislation, ended state-wide coalition efforts to advance a full-day high- quality pre-k policy. The veto did not eliminate the $25 million funding to the Public School Pre- kindergarten expansion program, which will go to the state's existing pre-k grant program. This was the largest appropriations increase for pre-k in the nation.

Additional legislative oversight and contracting transparency passed for the State Center for Early Childhood Development. Increased funding was obtained for TEEM, Early Childhood School Readiness Programs and the School Readiness Certification System. Plus, the passage of HB 635 (Guillen) allows Texas Head Start programs operated by school districts or community- based organizations to qualify for federal grant funding, such as the "E-Rate Program", that provides discounted access to technological and informational services in the classroom.

Other bills which passed include the following: SB 68 (Nelson) requires the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), before adopting school-age program minimum standards, to convene a temporary work group to advise DFPS regarding the proposed standards; SB 90 (Van de Putte) allows adoption of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children; SB 95 (Van de Putte) prohibits the sale or use of unsafe children's products; providing a civil penalty; SB 282 (Nelson) funds a grant program to provide nutrition education to children.

2015: Only four of 52 filed bills were signed into law this session with three focusing on child care records/inspection transparency and one on pre-K. With pre-K identified as one of the Governor's emergency legislative issues, HB 4 was earmarked the Governor's pre-K bill. It passed providing a small bump in funding for public school pre-K programs that meet new requirements. It does not include class size limits or other quality provisions, but it takes a first step that future legislatures can build on. HB 4 provides an additional $130 million via grants for the 2016-2017 biennium for high quality pre-K programs to currently eligible 4 year old students without explicitly funding or requiring full-day programs. HB 4 does change the Education Code requiring the Texas Education Agency (TEA) or school districts to do the following:

  • To "attempt" to maintain a ratio of not less than one teacher or one teacher's aide for each 11 students;
  • Pre-K teachers are certified teachers and have a Child Development Associate or certain other additional early childhood qualifications;
  • The TEA Commissioner to develop a pre-K teacher training course;
  • To permit partnerships between school districts and private providers;
  • High-quality pre-K programs measure the progress of students in meeting recommended learning outcomes;
  • To opt into the new high-quality programs to create family engagement plans;
  • High-quality programs use a curriculum that meets the TEA Prekindergarten Guidelines, and
  • To report to TEA class sizes, teaching ratios, the type and results of assessments used, and the curriculum used for all district pre-K programs.

The Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) program has experienced growth in the proportion of enrolled children who have more complex needs, such as a medical diagnosis or a delay in multiple areas. Much of this change stems from budget cuts in 2011, which led Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) to narrow the eligibility criteria for ECI and keep children with less acute needs out of the program. DARS requested $14 million in additional General Revenue (GR) for the 2016/2017 biennium. The Legislature opted to cut pediatric therapy service rates and partially fund this budget request with $3.8 million in GR funding and $5.9 million in All Funds (a combination of state and federal funding). This funding was estimated to allow the program to provide an average of 2.75 monthly service hours, rather than the 2.78 that DARS hoped to reach by 2016 and the 2.88 it hoped to reach by 2017. This represents a $2.5 million decrease in All Funds from expenditures during the 2014/2015 biennium, despite an anticipated increase in the number of children served and hours of service provided. The ECI program is expected to serve a monthly average of 26,753 children in 2016 and 27,170 in 2017. Another unknown is the state agency consolidation impact of transferring DARS functions to the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC).