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Austin ISD Plans to Lobby Lawmakers for Full-Day Pre-K

Kate McGee/KUT News

The sun is just beginning to rise as Denise Cisneros greets her pre-school students at the Lucy Read Pre-K center as they enter her classroom.

"How are you going to greet me today?" Cisneros asked a student at the front of the line.

"I would like a bug hug please," the little girl replied, giving Cisneros a hug before walking into the classroom.

Austin ISD offers full-day pre-K programs, but has to pay for half of the program itself because Texas only funds half-day preschool programs for qualifying students: low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with learning disabilities. But lawmakers filed at least four bills to require all school districts to offer free, full-day pre-kindergarten classes. Austin ISD would like to offer universal pre-K to all students. This year, Austin ISD also started a few pre-K programs for three-year-olds.

"It's one of those things that we can't skip a beat. In Austin, we need to do this, like, yesterday," said Cruz at a town hall forum hosted by KLRU this week. He said the district plans to lobby lawmakers this legislative session for more pre-K funding.

In 2011, lawmakers cut $200 million from a pre-K grant program. That forced many school districts to scale back to half-day programs or cut pre-K entirely. Last session, lawmakers restored $30 million. But it wasn’t enough for many districts. And late last year, the state lost a bid for federal pre-K funding.

Teachers and parents say the full day program allows students to learn more every day and acclimates them to the school day routine. Nearly all of the students at the Lucy Read Pre-K center are economically disadvantaged and most are English Language Learners.

“I’ve had children who have not spoken one word of English, and when they leave they’ve been able to read," Cisneros said. Plus, full day programs help parents, too. Half-day programs at Lucy Read end around 10:15 a.m. which is a problem for working parents or parents with multiple children, like Alexandra Vega.

"When she was younger, I couldn't do it," Vega said. She also has a one-year old son. "I had to make time. It takes longer because it's two kids. You have to get them ready, plus yourself ready. Plus, they have their fits, so it's a little bit more complicated."

During the gubernatorial campaign, Governor-elect Greg Abbott also made pre-K a centerpiece of his education plan. Abbott wants to set benchmarks for pre-K to make sure the state is funding quality programs. He also wants to develop a plan to encourage parents to enroll their children in state-based pre-kindergarten programs instead of the federal Head Start program, which he considers deficient.

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