Dallas ISD Board of Trustees to Consider Expanding Pre-K to All-Day Throughout District

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There are countless studies that show children who get a full day of pre-kindergarten fare better than kids who only get partial-day instruction. Take, for instance, this '06 National Institute for Early Education Research look-see, Is More Better? The Effects of Full-Day vs. Half-Day Preschool on Early School Achievement. (Spoiler alert: The answer is "yes.") Then there's this Center for Public Education briefing, prepared in order to convince public school systems that giving kids more from learnin' from jump shrinks the so-called education gap. Then there's perhaps the most widely circulated paper on the subject from the Montgomery County Public Schools: Evaluating Lasting Effects of Full-day Prekindergarten Program on School Readiness, Academic Performance, and Special Education Services, published in April.

It's the latter doc that Dallas Independent School District trustees will take a closer look at today, when the board will be briefed on plans to expand pre-kindergarten to full-day district-wide. Right now, pre-K's offered all day in 100 of the DISD's elementary schools; 41 other campuses only go half day. (And a handful don't have pre-K at all -- in most cases, says DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander, because there's just not enough room.)

All told, says the single-sheet briefing, pre-K reaches "8,434 eligible four-year-old students" -- "eligible" meaning they meet the criteria that allows in kids who don't speak or comprehend English, qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, have a parent serving in the armed forces, are homeless, or are in the custody of child protective services. (Students to whom those descriptions don't apply are allowed into pre-K, but only if there's room and only if they pay.)

Dahlander tells Unfair Park this was, in part, an idea proposed by DISD Chief Financial Officer Larry Throm, who on Monday announced he's going back to Austin next month. Also in on the discussions, of course, were Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and Chief Academic Officer Ivonne Durant, but Throm actually broached the subject with the board last month. Says Dahlander, "Larry said it's 'desirous' to have full-day pre-K whenever possible, and he brought forward the staffing formula. He put this in place in Lubbock and in Austin prior to leaving both of those school districts, so this is something he's been interested in doing here."

Throm's also the one, for now, who has to figure out how to pay for this.

The briefing doc says "fiscal implications are to be determined," but Dahlander says Throm guesstimates this will cost an additional $3 million per school year -- half of which will come from the state, half of which would come from the DISD's general fund. But Throm, via the district's spokesman, says the proposal will actually break even. How's that?

"What we're discussing now is: How many students per pre-K teacher?," Dahlander says. "And so the overall cost right now, if we were to do a pre-K class of 16 students full-day serving 7,542 students, is $3 million. ... But according to Larry, and this was discussed with the board last month, this would be essentially revenue-neutral. Every year our principals are allotted a certain amount of Title I funds to assist students who are economically disadvantaged, and many times that money is returned to the feds and not used on the campus level.

"What Larry is proposing is we use Title I funds, or the principals use Title I funds, to pay for the pre-K teacher aides that are currently in our classrooms now. And that will free up dollars to pay for full-day pre-K."
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