Mail clerk Steve Heinrich organizes mail-in ballots at Bexar County Elections Department before the election in November. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Concerned for the health and well-being of family, friends, and colleagues, I requested a mail-in ballot for the Nov. 3 general election. It’s the first time in nearly 50 years I will not go to the polls to vote. I have no intention of standing in a voting line when the state of Texas chose not to require masks inside polling sites.

My concern over political interference in the local operations of the U.S. Postal Service led me to hand-deliver my completed ballot to the Bexar County Elections Department on Friday.

My vote is one vote to renew funding for San Antonio’s nationally recognized Pre-K 4 SA early childhood education program; for the $1.3 billion investment in the San Antonio Independent School District; and for the City of San Antonio’s initiatives to fund workforce development programs and allocate more tax dollars for VIA Metropolitan Transit.

Contrary to the ridiculous ballot language imposed by the Texas Legislature, none of those initiatives will lead to an increase in your or my taxes.

I share my voting decisions with readers as they weigh their own votes. If there is a single conclusion to be drawn after the third annual San Antonio CityFest, which brought together nearly 100 panelists, speakers, and performers last week, it’s the urgency for investment in the health, education, and welfare of our neighbors. San Antonio invests a larger percentage of its municipal budget in public safety than any other major Texas city. It’s time to invest more in its people.

All of the CityFest sessions were recorded and can be accessed here.

This year of pandemic and shutdown has brought into sharp focus a picture of the city’s working poor and the extraordinary challenges they face: finding employment, feeding their families, accessing health care, and making sure their children get a good education.

The great digital divide represents a special challenge as educators across the city seek to reopen schools and find innovative ways to ensure young people do not forfeit a year or more of learning. Internet access, like good health care, should be a right.

Nothing the San Antonio Report has published amid the pandemic has perplexed me more than District 10 City Councilman Clayton Perry’s recent commentary defending his solitary vote against renewal of the Pre-K 4 SA program. He offers nothing in the way of an alternative to provide vital early childhood education options to our most vulnerable families, and he resorts to misleading numbers and claims to defend the indefensible.

Perry exaggerates the cost per student enrolled in the Pre-K 4 SA learning centers. He naively assumes that early childhood education funding approved by legislators in the last session will be renewed in future sessions. He argues that city government should not allocate tax dollars to public education, which he sees as the sole responsibility of school districts. He falsely claims there is no evidence that investment in San Antonio’s early childhood education program yields positive results. The payoff here and elsewhere is supported by credible research and data.

Perry’s thinking mirrors the actions of past generations of local leaders whose selfish race- and ethnicity-driven decisions made San Antonio what it is today: the most economically segregated big city in the country. We struggle now to undo that damage, hampered by an indefensible patchwork of different school districts that perpetuate the geographic lines keeping poor people poor and prosperous people prosperous at the expense of the poor.

A good education is the one certain path out of poverty and into a purpose-driven life, one with economic, social, and intellectual opportunity. The earlier we start to support the development of children from birth to age 8, the greater the likelihood they will escape the poverty that grips their parents. That’s why some of San Antonio’s most deeply invested citizens, people like H-E-B Chairman Charles Butt, former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, and San Antonio Spurs owner and Holt Cat CEO Peter J. Holt have led the way in the launch of the city’s Early Matters initiative.

Following our CityFest program with Texas 2036 founder Tom Luce and CEO Margaret Spellings, a former secretary of education under President George W. Bush, I hope readers begin to explore the rich trove of online data that the nonprofit organization has assembled and continues to expand as it works to build a more equitable, educated, and prosperous state by the Texas Bicentennial.

Reliable data is the best weapon to overcome the state’s bitter partisan divide. It’s where pragmatic leaders and citizens can find common ground. Republicans and Democrats can agree that attacking food insecurity, providing affordable health care, giving everyone equal access to a good education, and smart job creation are the keys to the state’s future.

Do not be misled as you cast your own ballot this election season. San Antonio will reap what it sows. Early voting opens Tuesday.

San Antonio Report is a nonpartisan news organization and does not support or endorse political candidates or ballot propositions.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.