Pre-K 4 SA announced Wednesday it will open enrollment to 3-year-olds and expand access to free pre-kindergarten for families making less than $75,000.

The expansion was driven by feedback from families that said they earned too much to qualify for free pre-K but too little to afford a quality program, said Paul Chapman, interim chief operating officer.

San Antonio families can begin enrolling their 3-year-olds for the 2022-23 school year Monday. Children must be 3 by Sept. 1 to enroll. Previously, Pre-K 4 SA only enrolled 4-year-olds.

Pre-K 4 SA also has created a scholarship structure that will allow any family earning up to $75,000 a year to have their 3- and 4-year-olds attend free of charge, CEO Sarah Baray said Wednesday at a press conference. Previously, Pre-K 4 SA only offered free, full-day pre-K to families considered to be economically disadvantaged or whose children qualified for the free- or reduced-price lunch program.

For families earning more than $75,000, a sliding-scale tuition assistance program is available based on income level and the number of people in the household. The maximum monthly tuition a family would pay is about $726.

“We know that families are looking for affordable and high-quality early learning for their children, and that is why we made these strategic program enhancements,” Baray said. “We are committed to making Pre-K 4 SA accessible to as many families with 3- and 4-year-olds as possible, no matter what income level.”

Sarah Baray, CEO of Pre-K 4 SA Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Since voters approved Pre-K 4 SA in 2012, the full-day pre-K program has served more than 15,000 4-year-olds, Baray said. While enrollment dropped the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pre-K 4 SA anticipates returning to full capacity within the next few months. The program can serve up to 2,000 children at its four centers.

Baray said Pre-K 4 SA began enrollment with only 4-year-olds because that is where the greatest need was, knowing that school districts would simultaneously build pre-K capacity. The state now requires public school systems to offer full-day pre-K to eligible 4-year-olds under the 2019 school finance reform law, which also increased funding to help districts create those programs. Many school districts and public charter schools already offered half-day pre-K.

By expanding enrollment to 3-year-olds, Pre-K 4 SA will be able to serve children for two years, creating “lasting benefits” for families and the city, Baray said.

“We have already established through research that when children have access to high-quality early learning, a highly skilled teacher and an evidence-based curriculum they learn at very high levels.

“When families have access to affordable childcare and early learning for their children, they’re better able to secure employment or to enroll in higher education, which will help them to earn higher wages, better benefits and be able to contribute to our city and to better care for their families,” she said.

Other students eligible for Pre-K 4 SA are those who are English language learners, homeless, in foster care, children of an active duty military member or parent who died while serving, or the child of someone eligible for the Star of Texas Award, which honors first responders killed or seriously injured on duty.

Pre-K 4 SA is funded by revenue from a one-eighth-cent sales tax that voters reauthorized in 2020.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.