Former Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and Spurs Sports & Entertainment Chairman and co-CEO Peter J. Holt will lead a new steering committee focused on improving early childhood education for San Antonio’s youngest students.

Among the tasks for the temporary group is planning for the reauthorization of Pre-K 4 SA, the City of San Antonio’s tax-funded pre-kindergarten program, and potentially recommending ballot language to City Council. It also is charged with studying the gaps in early education for students up to 8 years old and making recommendations on what an early childhood advocacy group would look like for San Antonio.

Over the next year, the committee will study best practices around the state and nation and strategize on how best to create a group called Early Matters in San Antonio. Such groups, which advocate for improved early childhood outcomes, already exist in Austin, Houston, and Dallas.

The steering committee’s work will wrap up by May, Straus said Monday at a press conference.

Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray told the Rivard Report in March that one of the committee’s first priorities will be seeking reauthorization for funding Pre-K 4 SA in 2020.

Voters are expected to take up the ballot issue next November. San Antonio residents are expected to vote on reauthorizing an eighth-of-a-cent sales tax to fund Pre-K 4 SA. The early childhood education entity first received such authorization in a November 2012 vote.

“We’ll spend several months studying the issues and coming up with recommendations on how we can take the lead that San Antonio seized in 2012 and extend it, continuing to prove to be a model for the rest of the state going forward,” Straus said.

The steering committee will comprise business and education leaders from around the city including philanthropist Harvey Najim, Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation President Shari Albright, former City Manager Sheryl Sculley, former Spur David Robinson, and H-E-B President Craig Boyan. There are 12 members on the committee.

“The business community is an important stakeholder group [in this] because early childhood education has benefits for the community at large,” Baray said in an interview last week. “There is a lot of evidence that the very best way to develop a strong community is to invest in young children and their families.”

Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray

Over the next nine months, the group will visit other communities with Early Matters groups to look at what has been successful and challenging, said Holt, who is also CEO of Holt Cat, the nation’s largest dealer of Caterpillar equipment. There’s not a specific agenda guiding the group; the goal is to find out what is needed to set up a scaleable system that improves early education outcomes in San Antonio, he added.

To accomplish that goal, it’s important to include business community leaders, Holt said.

“Everybody uses the coy term, ‘Oh [kids are] our future,’ but if you are an employer it is literally our future,” said Holt, who has three daughters under the age of 5. “You are literally going to hire these people within five to 10 years, so you can’t make the argument, ‘Well, I’ll just deal with them when they show up at my doorstep.'”

The committee plans to meet every other month into next summer, Holt said. The group will make visits to Chicago, Charlotte, and Tulsa to study early childhood initiatives.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.