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Now more than ever, San Antonio is in a position where we must be strategic with our limited public funding. With the uncertainty of our economy, we must be mindful of where and how we invest. It is our duty as City Council members to look at our funding as either a requirement or something that is nice to have. In April, City Council voted 10-1 to place Pre-K 4 SA on the November 2020 ballot. I was the lone vote against this measure.
I have had concerns with Pre-K 4 SA since its inception. Throughout my tenure, I have been like a broken record always asking, “What is the return on our investment?” I have issues with who should be paying for certain commodities and programs. While there is no doubt that early childhood education is critical to the development of young minds, I am unconvinced that the City of San Antonio should be in the business of running a prekindergarten program. Why should our City use a portion of its sales tax for education purposes when our school districts are taxing entities themselves?
One of the main pillars Pre-K 4 SA operates under is competitive grants. The amount of money given away to other organizations in the form of competitive grants is a big concern of mine. The grant program is designed to help public, charter, and parochial schools extend their prekindergarten hours and improve educational quality. I cannot understand why we are raising this money for Pre-K 4 SA to have them turn around and give a portion of it away to school districts, which again, are their own taxing entities.
Since the inception of this program, over $20 million dollars have been given out to other schools and an additional $21 million is expected to be allocated over the next eight years if funding is renewed. There are millions of dollars designated to only a handful of schools and no metrics to measure the true impact of those competitive grants. Until these grants can be assessed for their return, I consider it wasteful spending. We are uncertain of the results these funds are producing, however the funding continues to grow. Plainly, competitive grants are double-dipping. Not only do schools receive funding from property taxes, they also receive funding directly from Pre-K 4 SA.
When Pre-K 4 SA was first introduced, public half-day prekindergarten was funded. This has changed with the passage of House Bill 3 (HB3). Under HB3, prekindergarten has been extended from half-day to full-day and is fully funded. Proponents of Pre-K 4 SA will say that this full-day funding from the State is not certain beyond the next legislative session. How can they be sure? In the meantime, we are now essentially doubling up in San Antonio as we pay for the Pre-K 4 SA program with the one-eighth-cent sales tax as well as through tax dollars from the State.
One of my biggest concerns with the program is the cost per student. According to Pre-K 4 SA, the cost per student is $12,760, but I believe the true cost is $20,000 per student. This is because they receive $40 million per year and only directly serve approximately 2,000 students. This is a red flag because the average cost of a public pre-K student is $9,109. I would like to see a bell curve showing the optimal funding peak that shows the best results for the funding allowed.
While I admire the intent of Pre-K 4 SA, I feel it is time to adopt a new strategy. If this proposition fails, the existing sales and use tax would be reduced by one-eighth-cent, with an opportunity to consider another ballot measure in May 2022. This is shaping up to be a very important November ballot that not only includes national significance, but also several local initiatives.
There is work that needs to be done in our city that is not being addressed. Our citizens are struggling now. We must have a “back to basics” mentality at each level of government to be able to sustain our community and to provide a solid foundation for future generations. For far too long the City has overreached our bounds on issues that stray from the core responsibilities laid out in our City’s charter. Education should be left to the school districts. The future of Pre-K 4 SA is in the hands of San Antonio’s voters in November. I urge everyone to take a closer look into the operation of this program before casting their vote.
San Antonio Report is a nonpartisan news organization and does not support or endorse political candidates or ballot propositions.