Local schools discuss new full day Pre-K law

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LAREDO, TX (KGNS) - No longer are pre-kindergarten students going to be attending school for only half a day. A new law immediately requires school districts to allow four year olds to attend school from morning to afternoon.

However, if a district can't immediately implement the changes, they are being allowed to apply for a special three year waiver in order to gradually implement the full day program.

For United ISD, they have 14 of their 30 elementary school campuses already providing full day Pre-K. Kids do still get that nap time and fun, but according to parents and teachers these four year olds are more than ready to not only spend full days, but learn things earlier in life.

“Four years ago, all we needed to teach was the alphabet. Letters and sounds. And now, they're reading.”

For nine years, Hilda Saldivar has been teaching Pre-K students. She's seen firsthand the demands that have been placed on kids at such an early age.

One of her student's parents sat down to share the progress his daughter has made with full days.

“It’s very important especially at her age, for her to come actually the full day because she's always learning, picking up the languages,” said Ruben Gonzalez, Pre-K parent. “She's already learning how to read, I mean definitely. The kids are more advanced than they were before.”

The State of Texas agrees, and during the last legislative session lawmakers passed House Bill 3 which makes it law that pre-kindergarten classes be offered for full days only instead of half days.

Pre-K will remain optional and the requirements to enroll have not changed at all.

“You'd have to look at whether the student was limited, English proficient, economically disadvantaged, if they have an active military family, and the other requirement is that they are homeless or in foster care,” said Gloria Rendon, UISD administration.

Gonzalez added why half days cannot compare to full days with a teacher.

“She’s in an environment where she's learning, she's with the teachers, the teachers are being able to give her more attention,” said Gonzalez. “As opposed to her just being at home.”

With many school districts unprepared to make switch to full day Pre-K, the state is allowing a three year waiver to comply with the new law, which is what UISD is planning to do.

That plan was presented Tuesday to the UISD Board for Approval. It’s a phase in plan, year by year, working towards exclusive full Pre-K at schools.

“Because we know that our facility usage is going to increase,” Rendon said. “And so any time you offer full day services for our pre-kinder students, we know that the enrollment will probably look at increasing in our school system.”

Saldivar has been an educator overall for 19 years, and she is still amazed at what young kids can grasp.

“The incredible thing is that they’re so little, and they’re so ready.”

They'll hear back from the board on February 19th. United ISD's full day program is a first come first serve basis. Their roundup starts March 12th, open house at every single one of the elementary schools.

UISD has a plan to phase it in for the next three years. They also have a plan if they cannot be fully ready by 2023-2024, such as “cluster sites.” For example, Zaffirini has full day Pre-K, a close proximity school that has half-day Pre-K, they'll close that half day and merge with Zaffirini. Basically offering the full service for both campuses.

In the last eight years, United ISD has gradually increased to 14 full days of Pre-K with the help of the Head Start Program, which is under Webb County.