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March 12, 2009 (512) 463-0300

SENATE PANELS LOOK AT EXPANDING PRE-K, ADULT STEM CELL RESEARCH

Sen. Zaffirini
Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini presented her bill to expand existing half day Pre-K programs to a full day for schools that meet certain standards.

(AUSTIN) — Texas would expand existing half-day Pre-kindergarten education programs to full-day under a bill considered at Thursday's Education Committee meeting. Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini testified at the hearing that educating kids early pays off in the long run. "Every dollar invested in high quality early education programs yields a return of investment of at least $3.50," she said, citing a 2006 study at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service. Her bill, SB 21, would provide funds to improve and expand already existing Pre-K education in the state.

SB 21 would allow districts that already offer Pre-K programs to change voluntarily to a full-day program. In order to take advantage of the bill, districts would have to set Pre-K class size limits at 22, and change teacher-to-student ratios of 1 to 11. It would require participating districts to partner with private early education programs in their respective regions and would require them to submit data to the Texas Education Agency to gauge the effectiveness of expanded Pre-K programs. Teachers in the programs would have to take at least nine hours of training focused on early childhood education.

Many witnesses appeared to lend support to the bill. Dr. Ellen Frede, of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University testified that though Texas has more students in Pre-K programs than any other states, it ranks at the bottom in terms of Pre-K program quality. She said that by improving the quality of Pre-K education in Texas, the state can improve student achievement and keep kids from being held back grades as they get older. "High-quality Pre-Kindergarten education with highly-qualified teachers and reasonable class sizes, low ratios of staff to children, have strong, lasting benefits," she said. Frede went on to say that low income and minority students show the most dramatic improvement in achievement, especially among Hispanics and students that take English as a second language.

The bill was left pending before the committee as lawmakers look to get a more complete picture of the total cost of the bill.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony about a bill that seeks to improve adult stem-cell research in Texas. Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound introduced a bill before the committee that would create a system intended to bring together researchers in the adult stem-cell research field from across the state. "Currently, there isnít a frame work that exists in Texas to further adult stem-cell research," she said. "Through this new structure, our universities can more easily pool their resources, share information and promote adult stem-cell research, which has enormous potential."

Her bill, SB 73, would create the Adult Stem Cell Research Consortium, which would encourage collaboration from researchers at Texas universities and cord-blood banks. It would also create an oversight committee to secure and distribute public and private funds to the consortium to research projects. Nelson stressed that this consortium would only use adult stem-cell lines, and not those made from embryos or fetuses. The bill remained pending before the committee.

The Senate will reconvene Friday, March 13, at 10 a.m. for the reading and referral of bills to committee and will meet in full session Monday, March 16, at 11 a.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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