A group of prominent San Antonio leaders and philanthropists launched a steering committee Monday to prepare for the 2020 election to renew local funding for Pre-K 4 SA.
When San Antonio voters approved a dedicated sales tax to launch Pre-K 4 SA in 2012, the goal was to increase access to high-quality, full-day preschool.
At the time, the state only paid for half-day pre-k, but earlier this year state lawmakers approved funding for full-day pre-k for qualified 4-year-olds.
“San Antonio and this community should be very proud to have been trailblazers in pre-k, not waiting for the state to act to institute full day pre-k. We did it on our own, did it is as best we could,” said former Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.
“Now that the state is beginning to catch up and catch on… we have to make the case and educate the public about what they're going to be getting for their tax money,” he said.
Straus is co-chairing the committee, called Early Matters, with HOLT CAT Machines and Engines CEO Peter J. Holt. Other members of the committee include former city manager Sheryl Sculley, H-E-B President Craig Boyan and businesswoman and Texas A&M University System Board of Regents President Elaine Mendoza.
Holt said the advocacy group plans to spend the next nine months discussing the best ways to fill the gaps in access to education for children during their first eight years of life.
“(The time period up to) third grade is such an important, momentous period for children,” Holt said. “The research, I think, is pretty consensus at this point that kids that aren't reading in the third grade at the third grade level, there's a pretty big cliff.”
Holt said part of the goal of the Early Matters committee is to build wide-ranging support for early childhood education. It plans to release recommended language for the Pre-K 4 SA election in May.
Kate Rogers with the Charles Butt Foundation and Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray will serve as advisors to Early Matters.
According to Rogers, the committee has three goals:
1.) Explore what Pre-k 4 SA should look like in the future and recommend language for the 2020 election to the city council.
2.) Locate gaps in access to education for ages 0 to 8 and find solutions.
3.) Discuss whether they should disband in May, continue as an advocacy group or be absorbed by an existing organization.
Whatever form their recommendations take, it will most likely include expanded access to preschool. Both Sculley and Holt said “scalability” was a top priority.
State funding is still limited to children Texas considers at risk of falling behind academically, including English Language Learners and children from low-income families.
Pre-K 4 SA is currently open to a small number of families above the income threshold, around $45,000 for a family of four. But thousands of San Antonio families still don’t have access to preschool.
“We educate in our four (Pre-K 4 SA) schools 4,000 4-year-olds annually, we also provide grants for another more than 1,500 4-year-olds to other private, parochial, charter and public schools,” said Sculley. “But there's still a gap. And so we need to address those children that don't have access to early childhood education.”