San Antonio Moves Forward With Pre-K 4 SA initiative

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.

Last week, voters approved a one-eighth cent sales tax increase to fund the Pre-K 4 SA  initiative.

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.”

Related Links:

Pre-K 4 San Antonio

“Pre-K wheels are turning in election’s wake.” San Antonio Express-News.

“Pre-K plan stimulated important decision.” San Antonio Express-News. 

“Pre-K support was tied to income.” San Antonio Express-News. 

Democratic National Convention: Mayor Julián Castro Slips Pre-K Reference Into Keynote Speech

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro introduced himself to millions of Americans Tuesday night when he became the first Hispanic to deliver a keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Squeezed into his speech supporting President Obama and telling his own story, he briefly mentioned a passion project of his own–increasing the number of children enrolled in full-day pre-kindergarten in San Antonio.

“We know that pre-K and student loans aren’t charity,” he said. “They’re a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow. We’re investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”

Despite education being a key issue for Latinos, it so far has not been mentioned much in the run-up to the election.

In San Antonio, Castro has proposed a one-eighth-cent sales tax that would pay to expand full-day pre-K classes to more 4-year-olds. San Antonians will go to the polls on Nov. 6 to vote on the  Pre-K 4 SA proposal. The San Antonio Express-News reported that as locals watched the speech on television, former Northside Independent School District trustee Ray Lopez yelled “Sell it, boy! Sell it!”

According to a fact sheet from the mayor, about 5,700 4-year-olds in the city are eligible for state-funded Pre-K but are not enrolled in full-day programs. Some are not enrolled in any program and others attend half-day programs. He estimates that the tax could fund full-day classes for more than 22,000 children over an eight-year period. The city would open four education centers with classrooms, rooms for use by parents and teacher training space.

Castro proposed the pre-K initiative after a task force he commissioned recommended that expanding early learning would have the biggest impact on raising education levels in the city. Latino children have lower preschool attendance rates than both black and white children. The recent Kids Count study found that between 2008 and 2010, about 63 percent of Latino children did not attend preschool.

Castro believes the initiative will free teachers from slowing lessons down for children who weren’t in pre-K classes.

San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldana recently wrote a commentary in support of the proposal.

“The aim of the proposed initiative is not to replace the role of parents; it is simply to put more four-year-olds in front of a professional educator at a time they are most likely to be receptive to positive development,” he wrote.

There are some critics. Judson Independent School District trustee Steve Salyer wrote an opinion piece calling the initiative a “band-aid” that is only a stop-gap measure until the Texas Legislature needs to adequately fund public education.

Castro, a Mexican-American, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School and grew up on the city’s economically depressed west side. About 95 percent of Jefferson’s students are Latino and 85 percent are economically disadvantaged. He graduated from Stanford University and then went on to attend Harvard Law School, often crediting affirmative action with getting them there. His wife is a trained teacher and he has a three-year-old daughter himself.

Castro also mentioned Pell grants and the new pathway to temporary legal status for undocumented immigrant students. He mentioned that  San Antonio also opened a program called Cafe College, offering students help with preparing for tests and filling out financial aid forms.

Related Links:

– Pre-K 4 SA fact sheet.

– “San Antonians cheer Castro’s DNC keynote address.” San Antonio Express-News.

– “Education attainment still outside S.A. grasp.” Julian Castro.

– “Catch-em while they’re young.” San Antonio Express-News.

– “Pre-K 4 SA just another Band-Aid.” San Antonio Express-News.