While many students returned to class in 2020-2021, 588 fewer students enrolled in Spring ISD’s preschool, kindergarten and kindergarten programs than in 2019-2020, according to data from Texas Education. Agency. (Courtesy Spring ISD)
In June 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott enacted the House 3 Bill, expanding full-time pre-kindergarten statewide for eligible 4-year-olds to provide more students with a solid foundation for preschool education. However, in the next 2020-21 school year, nearly 25,000 kindergarten-eligible Texas children did not enroll, according to data from the Texas Education Agency.
Locally, school districts in the Spring and Klein areas have also seen a drop in student enrollment in some of the early grades last year, and officials said the trend is directly linked to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. .
“Parents who weren’t comfortable sending their students for in-person instruction may also have realized the limitations of trying to involve very young students in virtual learning,” Sylvia said. Wood, communications manager for Spring ISD.
Between the 2019-2020 and 2020-21 school years, student enrollment in preschool, preschool and kindergarten programs fell by over 500 students in Klein and Spring ISDs and over 1,200 students. in ISD Cy-Fair, according to Tea Data. Likewise, enrollments on campuses such as Grace England Early Childhood & Pre-K Center at KISD and Clark Primary School at SISD, which specialize in early childhood education, have also fallen by around 43% and 10% year over year, respectively.
“Looking at our trends against state trends, they were very much in line last year with declining preschool and kindergarten enrollment.[garten] [but] especially in pre-K, ”said Dayna Hernandez, associate superintendent of communications and public relations for KISD.
However, experts such as Kristi Martin-Smith, director of education and training for Children’s Lighthouse, said delaying the start of a child’s education could further exacerbate the learning loss inflicted by the pandemic. . The Fort Worth-based child care and early education company has two franchises in the Spring and Klein area.
“Delaying the start of a young child’s education can only be of benefit if the child has a quality early learning environment where he can engage in exploration, develop creativity and sense of inquiry, acquire the skills to be part of a learning community and be surrounded by other children to learn positive social interactions, ”she said. “This type of environment can be done at home, but it takes a fully engaged adult to scaffold the learning. “
As the 2021-22 school year begins in the fourth wave of COVID-19, local school district officials said they hope to see enrollment in preschool programs return to pre-school levels. pandemic.
The long-term benefits of effective early childhood education programs have been well documented, local educators said.
According to an April 2015 guidance note from the Child & Family Research Partnership, children who attend a Texas public pre-K program perform better in school and are less likely to be retained or repeat a grade, to participate in special education programs, to drop out of high school or to use public services.
“Current brain research has established that 95% of a child’s learning foundation is laid in the first five years of life,” Martin-Smith said. “The number of words a child hears during the preschool years is directly related to how well they read in Grade 2 – the more words, the higher the reading level.”
In addition to increased literacy skills, Martin-Smith said that children who enter kindergarten with positive emotional and interpersonal skills within a group of children are more likely to be successful in school. These skills, she added, are becoming increasingly difficult to develop in a virtual or home environment.
“Young children who are allowed to develop higher level thinking skills through preschool activities… develop healthy executive functioning skills… [such as] memory, flexible thinking and self-control, all of which are essential to healthy, daily living and most of which are difficult to learn through distance learning or at home without a peer group and guidance from ‘a trained preschool education professional,’ Martin- says Smith.
Research also indicates that early childhood education programs are particularly important for economically disadvantaged students, who make up about half of KISD and CFISD students and over 87% of SISD students, according to data from the SISD. TEA.
Similar research is part of what prompted the Texas legislature to pass HB 3 in 2019, which made full-day pre-K programs mandatory for qualified students in hopes of bridging the gap between economically disadvantaged 4-year-olds and their better-off counterparts.
“Full-time kindergarten provides working families with opportunities to access quality kindergarten for their children,” said Bob Popinski, policy director of Raise Your Hand Texas, a public education advocacy group based in Austin. “Especially after COVID, our young learners need the social and emotional support as well as academic support that our state’s early childhood programs can provide.”
While school districts in Texas could request a waiver of up to six years to comply with the mandate, CFISD launched its full-day pre-K program in January 2020, followed by KISD and SISD in August 2020. .
However, those who qualify for the state’s full-day pre-K program are limited to students who fall into certain categories, such as those with low incomes or limited proficiency in English. Popinski said that while HB 3 is a step in the right direction, there is still work to be done.
“Time and time again, research proves that full-time preschool gives all students a fair chance to succeed in school and in life and will have long-term positive impacts on our condition,” Popinski said. . “Raise Your Hand believes we must continue to expand full day pre-K programs so that all families who choose to participate have access. “
As the 2021-2022 school year approaches, local school district officials said they were optimistic kindergarten and kindergarten enrollment will return to pre-pandemic levels without spiking.
In KISD, authorities forecast 4,613 kindergarten and kindergarten students for the 2021-22 school year, up from 4,201 in 2020-21. Similarly, SISD officials predict 3,852 preschool and kindergarten students, against 3,675, and CFISD officials predict 11,065 preschool and kindergarten students, against 10,179.
“Our hope is that we will get back to where we were before the pandemic,” Hernandez said.
To further bolster student enrollment, Hernandez said KISD started a pre-K and Kindergarten roundup in April and offered KISD employees a tuition-based opportunity to send their own children – who would not normally be eligible for a full day of pre-K under HB 3 – to pre-K in KISD.
Meanwhile, SISD will be implementing a new pre-K program known as Frog Street this fall.
In addition, the district is expanding its pre-K program to meet the needs of a greater number of students by offering a tuition-free option to 4-year-olds who do not meet the eligibility requirements of the State, ”Wood said. “These seats will be allocated based on available seats. “
At CFISD, Leslie Francis, assistant superintendent of communications and community relations, said the district would improve existing programs, such as extended day tutoring and other programs that are helping delay learning due to the pandemic.
Although masks are optional this school year at KISD and CFISD, SISD officials announced on August 10 that it will implement a mask mandate this year for students and staff.
The district’s decision flies in the face of Gov. Greg Abbott’s May 18 executive order that prohibits local government entities from imposing face masks. According to the ordinance, entities that establish such warrants are liable to a fine of up to $ 1,000, although the ordinance does not specify how the penalty would be applied to school districts. At the time of going to press on August 18, the district’s mandate was still in effect and no action had been taken against SISD.
“Over the past week, I have received emails and phone calls, as well as in-person comments from a variety of our constituents, regarding the health and safety of our students and staff,” said SISD Superintendent Rodney Watson at the August conference. 10 boards of directors. “Starting Monday August 16, we will be enforcing masks on all students and staff inside all HISD facilities. “
The three school districts will continue to perform hospital-grade disinfection of district facilities and provide hand sanitizing stations in 2021-2022 to make families more comfortable sending their children to school, said. officials.
Wesley Gardner contributed to this report.