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For Some Central Texas School Districts, State Pre-K Money Will Go to Teacher Training

Robert W. Hart
Texas Tribune
Last legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott made funding pre-k programs a priority. Now, some Central Texas school districts say they have to use portions of state money for professional development, not directly to pre-k programs.

School districts in Texas will have more money next year to implement pre-kindergarten programs. The state awarded $116 million last week to school districts as part of legislation passed in 2015. For many Central Texas school districts, that money will go toward additional training for teachers.

Districts sent in applications to the state outlining what they’d do to boost their pre-K programs with the extra funding. There are certain requirements to receive the money – school districts must include how they’ll engage parents, for instance.

In Austin ISD, the money will offset costs for full day pre-K. Right now, the state funds half-day programs, and the district pays for the rest of the day, but most of the money will focus on professional development for teachers.

“One of our challenge spots is recognizing that our staff is our biggest asset. We want to make sure they have cutting-edge training,” said Jacquie Porter, who leads the Early Childhood Department for Austin ISD, which will receive nearly $3 million over the next two years.

She said a lot of professional development happens after school and that can be hard for teachers. Traffic makes it difficult to get across town on time, and the development sessions are often sparsely attended.

“After teaching all day, and engaging with students all day, it’s difficult to go and learn something new,” she says.

This money will let teachers take four professional development days throughout the year. It will also be used to hire more staff and lower the student-teacher ratio.

Manor received about $360,000 for its nearly 800 pre-K students, but Tonda Brown with Manor ISD said that’s not enough.

“We’re just trying to work with as many departments as we can to cover as many children as we possibly can,” Brown said.

The money will mostly go toward teacher training and professional development, but some of it will also offset full-day pre-K, which Manor is starting in the fall. You can view Manor ISD's full grant application here.

“We want to encourage our legislators to have this funding continue,” Brown said. “More would be greatly appreciated, but definitely for them to take a look and see the need – especially in the earlier grades, for sure.”

The Texas Education Agency is required to monitor school districts that have received grant money, but as of now it’s unclear how they’ll do that.


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