EDINBURG, February 23 - Fifteen Rio Grande Valley high schools and feeder middle schools are to be converted into the early college format, thanks to an infusion of $5.6 million in federal funds.
With the infusion of the federal dollars, the Valley will be able to increase its potential to connect every student to a successful future, according to PSJA ISD Superintendent Dr. Daniel King.
King spoke at a gathering of education leaders at the Region 1 Education Service Area headquarters as his school district, and that of Brownsville ISD, learned they were to receive a $5.6 million federal grant to expand the early college high school (ECHS) model in the Valley as part of the Early College Expansion Partnership.
“We need to stop creating a perpetual underclass,” King said during a media conference announcing the grant. “The implementation of educational models like early college high schools is critical to our ongoing work to foster educational success for Texas students.”
The Early College Expansion Partnership includes PSJA and Brownsville school districts, Educate Texas, a public-private partnership of the Communities Foundation of Texas, and Jobs for the Future (JFF). Between them, they will enact the early college schools and course work. The funding is coming from the U.S. Department of Education’s ‘Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund.’
The Expansion Partnership in the Valley is one of 20 i3 recipients in the nation. There were over 700 applicants for the grants. Supporters said the early college model is a bold approach that provides students with the opportunity to earn up to two years of college credit, tuition free, while obtaining their high school diploma.
In addition to King, others in attendance at the Region 1 event included Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, Brownsville ISD Superintendent Dr. Carl Montoya, South Texas College President Dr. Shirley Reed, Dr. Chris Coxon, Educate Texas’ chief program officer, and JFF representative Joel Vargas.
“With this funding, Brownsville and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo will be able to convert 15 high schools and feeder middle schools to the early college format,” Montoya said. “The expansion of this program will significantly boost our existing efforts to close the achievement gap in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Under the plan, Educate Texas will join the Early College Expansion Project to provide design, management and implementation support to the districts for scaling up and implementing early colleges while collaborating with JFF to continuously improve the early college design.
In the last ten years, Educate Texas has worked to expand the early college model across the state and now supports more than 60 designated campuses, including 18 in the South Texas region.
The ECEP, led by Jobs for the Future, will spread the early college model to 30,000 students over the next five years in Texas and Colorado. The plan is for JFF’s early College Design program to provide low-income students with rigorous curricula, including college course work, as well as strong non-academic supports to help prepare them for college success.
“Research shows that the fastest growing job sectors in the U.S. require more than a high school diploma. With this grant from the U.S. Department of Education and the work of the Early College Expansion Project, we can increase educational access for young people so they can pursue their dreams,” said Congressman Vela.
“The partnership of organizations like Educate Texas with national nonprofits and Texas school districts is critical to the immediate and long-term future of education in our region. I am proud to support this grant, and will continue working to make the Rio Grande Valley a hub of innovative educational practices.”
The “Fast Track to College Act” filed by Congressman Hinojosa is designed to increase high school graduation rates and improve access to college through the expansion of dual enrollment programs and early college high schools.
“The Valley has become a model for innovative educational practices and I am pleased to be part of this important day in Texas education as we build upon the work already being done here,” Hinojosa said.
“The early college model is a program with proven results that will help increase post-secondary success for low-income, first generation college-going students in the region. Earlier this month I filed the Fast Track to College Act because I believe the bill will further these efforts to help students across our nation.”
At a Texas House hearing at the state Capitol on Wednesday, John Fitzpatrick, executive director of Educate Texas, told lawmakers about the $6 million federal “i3” grant program for the Valley. The hearing was held to discuss plans to create a new super university for South Texas. In the audience were six students from the Math and Science Academy who may go to the new university.
“This money will scale early college high schools at PSJA and Brownsville ISDs. So, over the next five years there will be 15,000 to 20,000 students joining these six,” Fitzpatrick said. “There is a huge stream coming of qualified students that will be feeding into this prospective university.”