San Antonio is moving forward with plans to dramatically expand access to pre-K for low-income children, in hopes that the investment will result in raising the city’s education levels over time.
The measure is a passion project of Mayor Julián Castro. He campaigned hard for its passage, even mentioning the importance of pre-K as a smart investment in a keynote speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention. Castro proposed the initiative after a city-commissioned task force recommended that expanding early learning would have the greatest positive impact on improving education levels in the city.
According to the mayor’s office, there are about 5,700 4-year-olds in San Antonio who are eligible for state-funded pre-K but are not enrolled in full-day programs. Some are not enrolled in any programs and others are in half-day programs. Officials estimate that the funding raised by the tax increase could provide full-day classes to more than 22,000 children over the next eight years. The city plans to open four education centers of excellence with classrooms, rooms for use by parents and teacher training space.
The San Antonio Express-News reported that the tax should generate about $31 million a year, which could serve about 3,700 children each year.
The San Antonio initiative represents a substantial commitment to improving access that Hispanic children have to pre-K classes. Hispanic children lag other groups in participation rates in preschool.
Latinos comprised about 91 percent of the roughly 55,000 students attending the San Antonio Independent School District in 2011. About 93 percent of the district’s students are classified as economically disadvantaged. The district plans on working with the city on carrying out the plan.
The Express-News reported that voters in more heavily Latino and black precincts tended to favor the measure far more than those living in areas with mostly white voters. Voters from low through middle income levels supported the measure more than those in affluent areas. The measure passed with about 54 percent of the vote.
“Folks from across the city made a great decision to invest in education today so that we can be more economically prosperous tomorrow,” Castro told the newspaper. “I am proud of the broad coalition behind the effort. It showed that in San Antonio, we’re working well together to accomplish important things for our city.”