The wiggly prekindergarteners slowly put away their building blocks and alphabet flashcards as classmate Edwin danced from table to table passing out milk cartons.

Though still antsy, they settled in for lunch at Dallas ISD’s Arlington Park Early Childhood Center where they ate in the classroom as their teacher spent extra time with a girl who was practicing her letters.

Throughout the day, the Arlington Park students would also have mini-workout sessions, visit structured play-and-learn stations and, of course, story time.

Principal Maryann Rodriguez says while some things might look like extras — one-on-one attention, the focus on health and family-style meals where students learn to help each other — they are actually critical to getting kids ready to learn by kindergarten. And they’re only possible with full-day pre-K, she stressed.

“In a half day, you’re rushed,” Rodriguez said. “You have maybe 30 minutes for math before you have to move on to reading for 15 minutes; then line them up in the cafeteria to eat; and then send them home. You don’t have much time to stop and really see if a student got the lesson.”

Education advocates are cautiously optimistic that this is the year Texas funds full-day pre-K for public schools. Both the House and Senate school finance plans include money for it, but any deal on education funding is far from done.

Public pre-K in Texas is free to students most in need, such as those coming from low-income families, struggling to learn English or living in foster care.

Most brain development occurs by age 5. And research suggests high-quality pre-K can help children get on track for success more than any intervention later in life.

A 35-year study by a Nobel Prize winning economist found in 2016 that for every $1 spent on preschool, society reaps $6 in savings in welfare, criminal justice and health care programs.

“High quality pre-K can change the trajectory of a child’s life,” said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of the nonprofit Texans Care for Children. A full day “makes a world of difference for our kids most in need of help catching up to close academic gaps.”