Sarah Baray, Pre-K 4 SA CEO, thanks outgoing City Manager Sheryl Sculley for her service.
Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray speaks in front of city council. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Officials with Pre-K 4 SA asked City Council on Wednesday to place an item on the May 2020 ballot to reauthorize the organization’s funding stream.

Council members largely voiced support for the May ballot and Pre-K 4 SA’s funding reauthorization. Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Council would consider placing the reauthorization question on a May ballot at Council’s February meeting.

However, Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) questioned whether the City and its taxpayers should have a role in funding another school system. Perry’s question may be especially pertinent, given that in the most recent legislative session, lawmakers approved additional funding for pre-K expansion in traditional school districts, mandating the districts expand their current half-day offerings to full-day programs.

Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray noted that House Bill 3 funding did not expand the eligibility of students, meaning the same students who did not qualify for free pre-K before the session continue to be ineligible.

“[HB3 did] not create any more eligible children,” Baray said. “Those children were eligible before HB3, they are still eligible after HB3. It didn’t change the number, it only changed going from half day to full day. Forty percent of our children are not eligible for [free] pre-K in San Antonio.”

Baray estimated roughly 3,000 San Antonio families do not meet the requirements for free pre-K, but cannot afford pre-K otherwise. Students qualify if they are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, are the child of an active duty military service member, are homeless, or are part of the foster care system.

Pre-K 4 SA will move to better serve the 3,000 families who don’t have access to private pre-K, Baray said. If the organization’s funding wins voter approval, Pre-K 4 SA leaders plan to reserve 500 of the 2,000 seats at the four centers for students who don’t meet eligibility requirements but struggle to afford private pre-K. The organization would then work to create the remaining 2,500 seats at Pre-K 4 SA partners.

Voters first approved funding for Pre-K 4 SA in November 2012 with an eighth-of-a-cent sales tax that finances the majority of the early childhood education organization’s budget. 

Since 2012, the organization opened four centers, one in each quadrant of the city. Collectively, the centers serve 2,000 4-year-olds annually. Pre-K 4 SA has also awarded $21 million in competitive grants to private, parochial, and public schools and childcare development centers, and provided more than 60,000 hours of professional development.

Families pick up their children at Pre-K 4 SA on the city's Southside.
Families pick up their children at Pre-K 4 SA on the city’s Southside.

Eight years after voters authorized Pre-K 4 SA, the organization will have impacted more than 450,000 students, Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray told City Council.

In fiscal year 2019, close to 80 percent of Pre-K 4 SA’s revenue came from the sales tax funds. Sales tax funding would expire in June 2021 if voters don’t reauthorize the money. 

Pre-K 4 SA likely will have fewer voters to persuade by opting for a May ballot item instead of a November one. In November 2016, the last presidential election, roughly 57 percent of registered voters turned out. In May 2016, less than 3 percent of registered voters turned out.

The November ballot also will feature a potentially controversial tax initiative that will ask local voters to divert a one-eighth-cent sales tax away from water quality protection and trailway programs to fund mass transit.

Pre-K 4 SA Board Chair Elaine Mendoza told Council that the board decided to ask for a May election issue to avoid being placed at the bottom of a lengthy November ballot. She noted the May election would feature school board elections for local districts and Alamo Colleges, making it a ballot with an education focus.

“It is an important election, and we believe that those who follow education items and issues will certainly gravitate towards that first and the rest will follow,” Mendoza said.

The board chair also noted that resolving the reauthorization issue in May would give Pre-K 4 SA employees more time to plan for the future year and provide job security beyond June 2021 for staff.

City Council has until Feb. 14 to approve this ballot item.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.