NISD superintendent John Folks

A Sunday article in the San Antonio Express-News reported that support for the Pre-K 4 SA program was tied to income. The newspaper’s analysis of the Nov. 6 vote showed that voters from low-income, moderate-income, and middle-income areas in San Antonio were more likely to support the Pre-K 4 SA initiative than were those from higher income areas. Areas dominated by minorities tended to favor Pre-K 4 SA far more than areas dominated by Anglo voters.

A few weeks before the election I was telling people the same thing — in so many words. The people who could least afford the tax were supportive of the initiative, while those who could most afford the tax opposed the initiative. I know people offered many reasons and excuses for not supporting Pre-K 4 SA, but why did those who could least afford it support the initiative, and those who could easily afford it not support it?

Mayor Castro stretches to shake hands
Mayor Julián Castro makes his way through the crowd at La Fonda on Main, Pre-K 4 SA Election Night headquarters. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

There are many reasons that might explain this phenomenon of support or non-support. I believe those who could easily afford the 1/8 cent of sales tax did not see a need for the program. Their children benefit because their families have the resources to provide for early education opportunities, and their children would not qualify for the program.

Those families who had lesser resources saw a need and a program that would help their children. Remember the program is about helping children who are economically disadvantaged, which means children who qualify for free or reduced school lunch based on family income. These families see education as a path out of poverty. If n expansion of the current Pre-K program will help their children be better prepared to start school then they support it.

Besides the anti-tax sentiment, I believe there was the anti-government sentiment that led many people to vote no. Certainly the ones who could easily afford the tax did not want to see city government expand, especially into an area traditionally reserved for our schools. Those who have resources do not need or want more government services. There are many families, however, who need government support and assistance to better prepare their children for school. This is a program they appreciate and will support. This is not a “government hand-out,” as some people portrayed it, but a program that supports stronger early childhood programs in our city and in our schools.

Students Reading

It is my belief that we all share a responsibility to help those less fortunate than ourselves. I had a mother and father who preached this, but I also saw them practice this many times. From their experience in the Great Depression and World War II they understood that there were people and families who, because of their circumstances, needed the help of those who could afford it. This help came from individuals, churches, social organizations, and government. Sacrificing for the good of others was something their generation understood. I never once heard them complain about the government spending money to help those who were in need. It seems the divide in this country is more and more between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and this especially concerns me when it comes to helping our children.

In the days of the Hebrew prophets there were those in Israel who lived lives of luxury at the expense of the poor. They had an air of indifference to those who did not have even the basic necessities. Having just taught the Book of Amos in my Sunday School class, I can say that the prophet Amos certainly called out those who were more wealthy for their irresponsibility in not helping the poor. I am appreciative of the fact that there were many of the more fortunate in our community who supported Pre-K 4 SA.  And, certainly in this election the less fortunate voted in such a way to help our children have a better future. This is not socialism, it is social responsibility.

Dr. John M. Folks, the 2011 Texas Superintendent of the Year, has been an educator for more than 40 years and is one of the most vocal and passionate advocates for public education in the state of Texas. A native of Oklahoma who earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees from the University of Oklahoma, Dr. Folks began his career as a math teacher in Port Arthur, Texas. He currently is a senior lecturer for the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. You can read more of Dr. Folks’ writing on education on his “Common Sense About Public Education” blog. 

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org