When the application period for San Antonio’s sales-tax supported preschool program opens Thursday, the program’s director expects seats to fill quickly.
“Typically it will begin to fill very rapidly. We’ll continue to enroll throughout the spring but we do begin to get full by mid-April and some of our centers fill before even that,” Pre-K 4 SA Director Sarah Baray said.
Pre-K 4 SA was launched five years ago to increase access to affordable, high quality early childhood education, but Baray said a significant number of San Antonio 4 year olds still don’t have a place to learn.
“Even as we expand, we continue to have a gap because … our population is growing, and the population is growing proportionately, so we still have a large number of children who live in poverty,” Baray said.
According to local nonprofit Ready for S-A, about half of San Antonio’s 3 and 4 year olds attend preschool.
The one-eighth cent sales tax that funds Pre-K 4 SA created 2,000 new seats at the program’s four centers, and an additional 2,000 grant-funded seats at area schools.
“Some of our largest school districts can only offer half-day pre-k, and a half-day pre-k by its very definition isn’t high quality pre-k,” said Baray, adding that some schools don’t have enough classroom space to offer full-day preschool.
“We know that high-quality pre-k sets children on a track for success, and so we’re trying to make that available for as many families as possible,” she said.
Baray said Pre-K 4 SA gets about 4,000 applications for its 2,000 seats. Spots are filled on a first come, first serve basis, with 80 percent reserved for children who qualify for free preschool under state guidelines that include poverty, homelessness or having a parent in the military.
The remaining 400 seats are available to middle-income families, who also often have difficulty finding a preschool they can afford. Those families pay tuition on a sliding scale.
Camille Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille