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Pending State Legislation Could Create Big Changes in Early Ed. ... Or Not

It's always tricky to write about pending state legislation from a national perspective. For one thing, given the sheer volume of proposed legislation making its way through the 50 state legislatures, I'm guaranteed to miss something. And for another, I'm not an expert in every state's processes and insider politics, so it's very hard to judge which of the dozens of proposed bills has a real chance of passage.

Despite all that, I'm going to jump in feet first because there is a lot of state-based early-education legislation out there right now and, collectively, those bills would have the power to bring about large changes in the way states manage public programs for children under age 5.

Oregon has three bills pending that could affect early learning. One would fund the 2013 mandate to provide full-day kindergarten at every elementary school in the state. A second would increase the amount of money granted to working families who qualify for a child-care subsidy.

The third would expand the qualifications for receiving free state preschool access to all children living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Currently, children must be at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty line, an annual income of $24,250 for a family of four. The bill wouldn't have enough funding attached to actually provide preschool for the 32,000 children who would qualify if it passed and who do not currently have access to public preschool, but it would bring services to an additional 1,500 children each year.

Texas also has a couple of bills pending that would affect early education, especially its state preschool program. When I wrote about the bills a few weeks ago, I noted that one would provide full-day preschool, which would be an increase in service over the current program. That one doesn't seem to be gaining much traction. The other bill, which closely follows Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's vision, would restore funding to the state's current half-day preschool program that was cut during the recession. It would not substantially expand the program, however. That bill made it past Texas' House Education Committee on March 24.

Hawaii also has legislation pending that would largely restore, rather than grow, its public offerings. The state's Preschool Open Doors program is not state preschool, per se, rather it assists eligible families with preschool tuition.

"What we're pushing for is a restoration of what was in the original budget," policy advocate Jeannine Souki told Pacific Business News.

Gov. David Ige's biennial budget proposal does not currently contain funds for the program, according to the March 18 Pacific Business News article.

AlaskaIdaho, Montana, and South Dakota, four states that do not currently offer state preschool services, also have pending legislation that would create some form of public preschool. Most of these states have declined to pass similar bills in the past.

Know of more pending early ed. legislation I've missed? Note it in the comments or email me, and I'll do my best to keep track of it as it wends its way (or doesn't) through your state's legislature.

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