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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- An early childhood education expert has testified that the state now spends about $300 less per child on pre-kindergarten programs than it did a decade ago.

Steven Barnett testified Tuesday at a sweeping school finance trial before state District Judge John Dietz in Austin.

He said pre-K programs are essential in children s development and are instrumental in closing achievement gaps for low-income students.

Barnett said Texas spent $3,761 per child in the 2010-11 school year compared to $4,067 per pupil 10 years ago.

Texas lawmakers cut full-day pre-K last year to save $300 million.

More than 600 school districts have sued the state over the way it finances schools, claiming the system is so inadequate and unfair that it violates the Texas Constitution.

The case will likely last into January.

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