Voters in San Antonio, Texas narrowly passed a pre-kindergarten initiative that would create a full-day program for 22,400 4-year-olds over eight years.
The measure increases the sales tax by one-eighth of a cent, generating about $31 million a year for the Pre-K 4 SA initiative. The program seeks to prepare students for school, pointing to evidence of higher performance among elementary schoolers who did attend pre-K programs versus those who didn't, as well as a lower instance of special education placement and grade retention.
"We're a city that believes that if you create opportunity for folks now that were going to see prosperity in the future," Mayor Julian Castro said Thursday on Morning Joe.
Critics of the program have pointed to some ambiguities in the plan, including issues related to transportation, students with special needs and the role school districts would play. Others have also criticized it for potentially competing with existing programs, like the federally funded Head Start preschools.
Officials have noted, however, that 21,000 children are eligible for Head Start programs in San Antonio, but funding is only available to provide for about 7,000. Pre-K 4 SA would answer to that discrepancy and be open to all children. A child who is homeless, an English learner, eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, child of a member of the U.S. armed forces or a foster child would be able to attend for free.
The measure was symbolic of Castro's promise to work toward economic prosperity for the low-wage city. It was his big push to develop a stronger, educated workforce that attracts high-wage employers, and its passage was the community's push to fund education in a state where its $8,908 per-pupil spending is well below the national average of $11,463.
Studies have shown huge differences in future success between those who receive early education and those who don't.
"For the purpose of education in a state that ranks about 45th or 47th in terms of per-pupil spending, San Antonioans could see that in order to have economic prosperity in the future, in this 21st century global economy where brain power is the new currency of success, it made a lot of sense to invest this small amount for a big reward in the future," Castro said Thursday.