Tuesday is the last day for voters to have a say on a number of issues. In fact this is the largest ballot we have had in Bexar county history. We will vote not only for president but dozens of other elected positions as well. In addition, some of you will have the opportunity to vote for or against a pre-k education initiative requiring you to increase the sales tax to the maximum allowed by law.
For those people living in San Antonio, the last item on the ballot is not for a person but an idea: An idea on how to improve pre-k education. While I think everyone agrees that any improvement we can make at any level of education is a good thing, the devil is always in the details. With any good idea you must also have a good plan. Unfortunately, this initiative is sorely lacking a good plan.
First, you have to ask yourself if the city of San Antonio should be in the business of pre-k education. My answer is no. Think of it this way. Would you want your independent school district to spend its resources on fixing potholes or picking up trash? I believe most people would answer that with a resounding NO! Our cities are given powers and revenue sources to provide basic services like street maintenance, parks, fire, police, libraries, and yes trash. I would prefer they take care of those things rather than increasing the sales tax burden on all of us to fund education initiatives. Those basic services aren’t sexy but it is what the cities responsibility. While “education”, and “do something for the children” always play well for people in elected positions and garner much media attention, it is my belief that those of us elected to city and county positions are not elected because people want us to fix education. I believe we are elected to take care of the “nuts and bolts” of our day-to-day lives.
Second, pre-k is a laudable idea lacking a good plan. Here are just a few of the areas where the current pre-k initiative is found wanting: There is no final plan for transportation. Obviously one of the most important and expensive portions of any education plan. There is no plan for parent and caregiver outreach. There is no plan on how to properly align curriculum to our public school system which is essential to maintaining any gains produced through per-k. In addition, the city will create the equivalent of an 18th school district in Bexar County however, instead of being able to elect your board this one will be appointed by the council. How many times have we lamented that we have too many school districts? Why would we consider creating another one? All of these areas plus many others are answered with phrases that amount to, ” we’ll figure those things out later”. When we’re going to spend upwards of $35 million, it’s imperative that these questions are answered so we can evaluate the potential return on investment.
Third, in addition to lack of planning, I see flaws in portions of the plan as well. For instance this plan will take $50 million in state and federal funding intended for our public school pre-k systems. It will also pay teachers between $15,000 to $20,000 a year more than our public school system can afford to pay. Thus “stealing” not only dollars intended for public schools but talent as well. This plan also includes the building of four new learning centers paid for with more than $30 million from 2007 bond dollars. A bond that the voters passed which did not include anything regarding learning centers. I know I was on City Council when that bond was offered to the voters and had a hand in writing it.
I could go on and on with other questions and observations on what is lacking in this plan but this would become something closer to a book rather than a short article. I have asked the mayor in writing for answers to 18 different questions but have thus far been unable to obtain complete answers. I’ll leave you with one final point. Recently at the Congress of Children held here in San Antonio, David Lawerance from Miami Dade County who has created a successful pre-k program said repeatedly that in order for these types of social programs to work they MUST be available for everyone. This program is not.
For all those individuals living in suburban cities like Windcrest, Von Army, Universal City, Leon Valley, etc. and for those individual living in the unincorporated areas of the county, you not only won’t have the opportunity to vote on this issue but should it pass you will not be eligible to utilize it. However, you will still be required to pay the sales tax every time you shop in the city of San Antonio. Taxation without representation is just not right.
I applaud the mayor for trying to do something he believes in but this plan is far from complete and would be a disservice to not only to the citizens of San Antonio but to all of Bexar County. I encourage you to vote NO this Tuesday on the pre-k initiative and let’s work together on a plan that can work.
Kevin Wolff has served as precinct 3 (Bexar County) commissioner since 2009.