Mom says Texas pre-K elgibility guidelines discriminate

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by STEVE STOLER

WFAA

Posted on May 1, 2012 at 10:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 2 at 2:51 AM

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PRINCETON — Here's something most parents who want to sign their kids up for a public school pre-kindergarten program may not know: Under Texas law, if your four-year-old speaks or understands English, in most cases, he or she isn't eligible to attend.

One North Texas mom says it's not fair to people like her, who are paying taxes to fund the program, but can't enroll their children.

Mason Catenaccio is in speech therapy. His mom, Jonna Castenaccio thought the Princeton ISD Pre-K program would help her son. But when she registered Mason, he was declared ineligible.

"I was horrified," Catenaccio said.

Mason's family didn't meet income or language guidelines... and he speaks English.

Texas Education Agency officials say the pre-K program was designed to help kids whose home language is not English. The idea is to let those kids catch up to get them ready for kindergarten.

"I believe the criteria they have in place is good criteria, because those students do have a more difficult time being successful, especially early on," said Princeton ISD Superintendent Philip Anthony.

Catenaccio thinks that's unfair. "People who speak English in their home, with it being the primary language in America, we're being discriminated against because our kids speak English," she said.

Texas lawmakers established the pre-K program 28 years ago, requiring school districts to provide a half-day program for four-year-olds. Dozens of districts like Princeton use local tax dollars for a full-day program.

"These kids are double disadvantaged many times," the superintendent said. "I mean, just imagine if we were to be transplanted into another country and we have to learn not only the curriculum, but we have to learn another language also."

Jonna Castenaccio said all kids should have the same opportunity, regardless of income or language.

"They want to say 'no child left behind,' yet you've got children left behind," she said.

E-mail sstoler@wfaa.com

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