Little Elm ISD is exploring how to implement full-day pre-kindergarten, something that is mandated by the passage of House Bill 3 at this year’s Texas Legislature.

As a result of HB 3, districts across the state have received the Early Education Allotment, which provides funding to help students improve performance in reading and math, including supporting full-day pre-kindergarten for eligible 4-year-olds.

There is a waiver opportunity that begins in January, and districts can apply for one- two- or three-year waivers if they feel they can’t implement it immediately.

Ashley Glover, director of district testing and federal programs, on Monday outlined a timeline LEISD will follow in determining when full-day pre-K will be implemented.

Glover said district leaders knew it wouldn’t be able to implement it for 2019-20 but that they are looking at all options in terms of waivers.

“There is the financial piece. We want to make sure when we go forward with full-day we can sustain it appropriately and that it’s in the best interest of the students and the best interest of the district,” she said.

Glover said if LEISD decides to pursue a waiver, the district would have to solicit partnerships from public and private entities this school year to see how it can build into full-day pre-K.

“It’s a challenge for districts to go from half day in 10 different classrooms to a full day … how many students do we have who need that type of thing?” Glover said.

She said in 2020-21 LEISD would have to open one full-day 4-year-old classroom to eligible students, either with a partner entity or in-house.

LEISD would have to open a second full day 4-year-old classroom in 2021-22. And by 2022-23 the district would have to open a full-day 4-year-old pre-K to all eligible students or apply for an additional waiver with additional requirements.

To be eligible the students must be an English learner, educationally disadvantaged, meaning they are on the free and reduced lunch program, be homeless, or be a child of an active duty member of the military or of those killed or injured in the line of duty.

Other criteria includes a conservatorship of the Department of Family and Protective Services, a child of a person eligible for the Star of Texas Award as a peace officer, firefighter or emergency first responder and any services designated through an individual education plan.

Glover said the district plans to both solicit partnerships in a public meeting and create a financial plan in October.

She said the board will review the financial impact and consider the partnerships in November and will consider in December whether to file the waiver. If so that would take place in January.

Glover said the Delilah King Early Learning Center had full-day pre-K for 4-year-olds in the past, and the participation reached around 382 students until around 2011. She said once the district went to half day there was a significant decrease in participation. She said causes ranged from families having to find transportation to opportunities to attend.

“As we know education really begins at the early childhood learning, so we’re excited for the opportunity,” Glover said.

Board members shared in the excitement.

“I would really love to see us get this off the ground for next year,” said Board Member Dan Blackwood. “I think this is an extremely important issue.”

Blackwood said he’s concerned how the district would pay for the program if the funding is gone in two years. But Superintendent Daniel Gallagher said the waiver process helps address that.

Gallagher said full-day pre-K is something he wants the district to own.

“The vision that I have for the district is to have full-day pre-K at an early childhood center or early childhood opportunities for every student in Little Elm ISD that needs that and qualifies for that,” Gallagher said.

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