We’ve had enough excuses
Today, I was listening to some of the reasons that people are in opposition to the Pre-K 4 SA initiative. One given was that not enough details have been provided. Actually, quite a bit has been provided through the city’s website (remember, it is a city initiative). Most likely, there will never be enough detail so this is just an excuse than a reason. Regarding the target population itself, some have focused on the parents. When you consider the program, it has a parenting component above and beyond what is offered in the school districts so, once again, another excuse, even when presented a solution. In other words, all that’s afforded by the opposition are excuses but no real reasons. When looking at San Antonio’s future, we’ve had enough excuses. It’s time for solutions and Pre-K 4 SA is a solution.
But first, let’s look at what’s at stake here. The Pre-K program being promoted by the city, community, and businesses of San Antonio is designed to target a specific population of children. These children are from families that are at or below 185% of the poverty level (as defined by the federal government), live in a household where English is a second language, be a dependent of either an active duty, injured, or deceased member of the U.S. Armed Forces, be homeless, or be currently in or have been in fostered care. The target audience are children that aren’t afforded the same lifestyle many of us were brought up in.
According to the program there are estimated to be eventually 3,700 children per year to be served by this high quality pre-K program in four model centers around the city. Not only will the model centers serve the children, they will also serve as training centers for parenting skills, a requirement for enrollment in the program, and become a training center for pre-K teachers from the school districts, private schools, and charter schools. In other words, the purpose of the centers is to not only teach the children but many others involved in the process.
So why should the city be involved in educating children? After all, isn’t that the job of our school districts? I would tend to agree if it weren’t for the fact that each year our state legislature continues to cut funding from education to balance the state budget, usually in deficit due to a structural tax problem. Just this past biennium Texas schools were underfunded by over $200 million for full day pre-K programs.
Realizing that the best way to change the trajectory of a child’s educational life is to start as early as possible, San Antonio has decided to step into the mix and deal with the problem locally while the state continues to wrangle with future budget shortfalls. In other words, San Antonio is tired of excuses from our state legislature in terms of funding education and is providing a solution for a population that is typically underserved year in and year out.
So what’s the difference between what will be offered in the model centers and pre-K programs in our school districts. For starters, the programs will be full day and not half day, creating an educational lifestyle for these young children. Numerous studies have proven the effectiveness of a full day program for pre-K. One study conducted by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents found that “Disadvantaged students in full day kindergarten were also found to experience greater academic benefits than students in half day programs, although the magnitude of these greater benefits is again variable.”
When considering the cost of the program, it factors to around $7.81 per year per household in San Antonio. Granted, that number is difficult to pin down but opposition counters of $50-60 are even harder to quantify, especially considering the nature of San Antonio being a destination city for both tourists and Mexican nationals who shop in the city. Sales tax revenues continue to climb in the city, indicating a broader spread of tax burden across the population. It is reasonable to assume that the tax burden per household to be no more than $10 per year.
Counter that with the societal cost benefits realized by changing the educational trajectory of the child and family. By enrolling children and their families in these programs it is expected the educational life to take a much better track than without the program. Changing the lifestyle trajectory of a child from an economically disadvantaged life to one where the young adult is not only employable but contributes to society can have dramatic effects on the community. Just by not having to provide restitution services such as detention for crimes can help serve the community.
Couple that with the need to continue to grow San Antonio’s workforce into one that is more educated and employable is another good reason. Many will cite the fact that these benefits cannot be realized for more than a decade. However, these views are extremely shortsighted and could leave our city’s future in jeopardy. When dealing with long term solutions one has to start early and create a path to success. Education is a part of that foundation and if the state will not help San Antonio meet the challenge, the local community must step in.
So I advocate and support the Pre-K 4 SA initiative and encourage everyone to vote for it. It’s our city’s future that is at stake and the data is compelling. It’s time to quit making excuses and for San Antonio to take hold of its destiny. Waiting for others to solve our problem is no longer an option.