Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday turned one of his highest legislative priorities into law, signing a bill aimed at improving early education in Texas.
House Bill 4 sets aside $130 million over two years for school districts whose pre-kindergarten programs meet certain standards. Early education was among five emergency items Abbott declared earlier this year.
Abbott signed the bill surrounded by its authors and students at Anita Uphaus Early Childhood Center in Austin. Afterward, he told the lawmakers he was pleased to see "nothing but green lights" as the bill worked its way through the Legislature. HB 4 overwhelmingly passed both chambers, despite some Tea Party opposition.
The legislation was not perfect, according to both its supporters and critics. Early education advocates had hoped it would emerge stronger from the legislative meat-grinder, while conservatives — including those on a panel that advises Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — saw it as an expansion of state-funded pre-K.
The law creates a grant program that could dole out up to $1,500 per child to eligible school districts that agree to bolster their pre-K programs geared toward students from low-income, non-English-speaking, foster and military families. The districts would have to meet certain teacher quality and curriculum measures before they could receive the funding.
Abbott on Thursday also signed three other bills that were a part of his early-education agenda.