Preschoolers from active-duty military families in Texas are now eligible to attend the state’s public prekindergarten program for free.
The new rule—part of school finance legislation that passed recently—also applies to children whose parents were injured or killed while serving in the military. Children of activated reservists and members of the National Guard will also be able to attend state-sponsored preschool for free.
Supporters of the policy plan to seek similar bills in other states.
With roughly 175,000 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled, Texas has one of the largest public preschool programs in the country. The program, which is operated by public school districts, currently serves children from low-income families, homeless children, and English- language learners. While 3-year-olds make up only a small percentage of the overall enrollment, military families with 3-year-olds will be able to sign up their children if the local district serves that age group.
The pre-K expansion is expected to cost about $6 million a year, and about 1,500 children are expected to take advantage of the opportunity, which takes effect immediately. In fiscal 2005, the state spent roughly $478 million on the statewide pre-K program.
The Military Child Education Coalition, a Harker Heights, Texas-based nonprofit organization focusing on the educational needs of children in military families, was one of the groups that pushed for the provision. The coalition worked with the Texas United Way and Pre-K Now, a Washington-based advocacy group, to persuade legislators to make the change.
“The state recognizes that military families need some support,” said Mary M. Keller, the executive director of the coalition. She added that because children of military families move every two or three years, it’s important for them to start out with a good foundation.
The program will especially help children who have both parents deployed and who are living with relatives or friends, Ms. Keller said.
Texas, which has the fourth-largest military population in the country, is the only state to specifically change pre-K eligibility rules to include children from military families. Some states automatically serve those children because their programs are open to all 4-year-olds, regardless of financial need, Ms. Keller noted.
She added that the coalition plans to work with Pre-K Now in pushing for state legislation elsewhere.
A version of this article appeared in the July 26, 2006 edition of Education Week