As the Texas Legislature considers a measure that would mandate a student-to-teacher ratio in prekindergarten classrooms, Longview-area school officials say the move would have little effect here.
House Bill 41 would require that a pre-K classroom not exceed 11 students with one teacher or 22 students with a teacher and a teacher’s aide.
The Texas Education Code only recommends a ratio, stating that “a school district must attempt to maintain an average ratio in any prekindergarten program class of not less than one certified teacher or teacher’s aide for each 11 students.”
Spring Hill ISD interim Superintendent Penny Fleet said the district never has more than 22 students in a pre-K class, and all classes have aides.
This year, the numbers for prekindergarten are lower than other years because of COVID-19, she said. There are 31 students, compared with about 60 in other years.
“We’re really happy with the setup we have, and we’re hoping with the vaccinations being out and what the state has done to curve the pandemic that our pre-K numbers will be up,” Fleet said.
Grant or federal funds have helped Pine Tree and Longview ISDs achieve and maintain that pre-K ratio, officials say.
Pine Tree Primary School Principal Ruthie Walker said in the 2017-18 school year, the campus received a grant to fund full-day pre-K with an aide in the classes for that year.
She said at the end of that school year, the board believed it was important and continued to fund it.
“I have eight pre-K classrooms this year,” Walker said. “We usually have eight to 10 (students), and every one has a classroom teacher and a highly qualified paraprofessional.”
East Texas Montessori Prep Academy in Longview ISD has a Head Start program funded through Region 7 Education Service Center with federal money, said Director of Montessori Jacqueline Burnett.
The grant helps pay for instructional assistants and other services, she said. That allows the school to keep a 10-to-1 ratio in classes.
All three Longview educators agreed there are benefits to keeping pre-K classes small with students that age.
“When you’re dealing with the age group we work with, we’re trying to get them school ready,” Burnett said. “To have two adults in there, you can work one-on-one with small groups so that gives individual children the attention they need.”
Fleet also said the small group instruction helps students that age.
“They are 4 years old and coming to school for the first time,” she said. “So there’s a lot to teach them from classroom behavior to the academic content. We do see that our students who come and attend pre-K with us and go to kindergarten, our teachers can certainly tell if they’ve been in pre-K just by how they come in. They know how to do school, cooperative learning, to complete a task, work in centers. It makes a world of difference for our kiddos who attend pre-K.”
Walker said having two adults in classrooms is especially good for students learning English as well as children in special education.
The extra adult allows special education students to spend more time in classrooms with their peers , she said.
However, there also are possible drawbacks, such as funding needed to uphold the teacher-to-student ratio.
“Our district funds it, but I do worry about other districts who don’t have the money,” Walker said. “And I hope it comes from the Legislature.”
Fleet said she could see the state giving schools the chance to apply for a waiver for more time to get what is needed to obtain this ratio, such as necessary funding.
“I can see them giving school districts time to get this in place and the money,” she said. “This is another potentially unfunded mandate.”