City Council reviewed a preliminary plan on Wednesday for how San Antonio will implement the voter-approved, $154 million education and job training initiative aimed at up to 40,000 San Antonians.

Most Council members were generally receptive to a hybrid approach recommended by the City’s Economic Development Department that would split student case management responsibilities between City management and contractors such as Project Quest and Workforce Solutions Alamo. The City would also establish a nine-member advisory board with two Council member liaisons that would recommend target populations and industries.

The seven-year draft budget and programming would emphasize job training certificates, which typically take months to obtain, in the first couple of years and then devote more attention to two- and four-year degrees in later years. Some funding for high school equivalency education and testing programs will also be included, said Alexandra Lopez, director of economic development.

This graph shows the enrollment plan for certificates, associates, and bachelor degrees as part of the SA Ready to Work program.
This graph shows the enrollment plan for certificates, associates, and bachelor degrees as part of the SA Ready to Work program. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

“The tuition assistance is going to be coupled with wraparound support and emergency financial assistance [such as childcare and housing assistance] to help participants complete this training,” Lopez told City Council during her presentation of the plan. “All of these different components to the program are really designed to achieve the ultimate outcome of helping participants and helping our residents re-enter the workforce.”

The program builds off of the current Train for Jobs SA program that was funded through the federal coronavirus relief fund. Enrollment through the SA Ready to Work program will start next September and continue through December 2025. The program, however, will continue through fiscal years 2026 and 2027 as participants finish their courses.

“This is not a program to just get folks trained with certificates or obtain associates or bachelor’s degrees – it’s designed to connect [people to] jobs,” Walsh told the San Antonio Report. “That’s why part of the recommendation is to make sure that we’ve got good connections to employers.”

The entire City organization – its departments, programs, and partners – will need to be aligned with this effort, he said.

“We’re talking about the real-world economy,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. “This program will not work unless we’re matching people with jobs that are actually available. … The vast majority of jobs that are going to be filled through a program like this are going to be small businesses.”

The advisory board will be comprised of at least four executive-level representatives from employers, two current or previous participants in Train for Jobs, one trade or labor organization representative, one community organization representative, and one training provider. City Council will vote on the creation of that board later this month.

Another vote will take place in February on changing the bylaws of the San Antonio Early Childhood Education Municipal Development Corp. (also known as the Pre-K 4 SA board) to define its functions as it relates to Ready to Work. As with Pre-K 4 SA, that corporation’s board will be responsible for approving the workforce initiative’s budget.

A request for proposals for job training and wraparound services will be released in March or April next year after stakeholder input, Lopez said.

It’s a relatively fast rollout but “we have about a four-month head start on learning this process” because of San Antonio’s experience with Train for Jobs, Walsh said.

When that program started, the City handled participants that needed the least help in terms of wraparound services: those that needed a little help with resume development or career identification. Under this plan, the City will take on case management for participants with the highest barriers.

“I’d rather take on the heavier lift on our side … and allow other agencies that do this for a living [to] scale up and do the [less complicated cases],” Walsh said.

The bulk of the revenue generated from the one-eighth sales tax approved by voters in November will go toward tuition, but an estimated $11.4 million will go toward case management and wraparound support under the hybrid City-contractor plan.

This seven-year budget summary shows how money will be allocated through the SA Ready to Work plan.
This seven-year budget summary shows how money will be allocated through the SA Ready to Work plan.

City staff also explored outsourcing all the wraparound support components, costing roughly $10.4 million, or making it entirely internal, roughly $11 million.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) disagreed with the hybrid approach.

“That doesn’t sound like a good idea to me,” Gonzales said. “Why wouldn’t you just give [that work] to people that are already doing it?”

Based on the City’s experience with Train for Jobs, Lopez said, a hybrid approach will allow for better flexibility and scalability. The sales tax will pay for about 63 new City employees under this plan.

City staff compared three scenarios to provide case management and wraparound support for SA Ready to Work.
City staff compared three scenarios to provide case management and wraparound support for SA Ready to Work.

In February or March, City staff will come back with a more refined plan that includes how the program will be targeted for certain populations, what its structure will look like, and who will serve on the advisory board, Walsh said.

An economic impact report on Ready to Work local economist Steven Nivin authored in November found that every dollar spent on the program will yield $85 while costing the average resident $8.62 per year.

If successful, the plan will yield a total of $13.2 billion in community benefit, including $5.7 billion in increased wages and $7.4 billion in additional spending of increased wages. Download the report here.

Perry, who opposed placing Ready to Work on the November ballot, called the report “overly optimistic” and joined other Council members in calling for the City to keep track of participants after they complete their education and enter the workforce to ensure that the program is working.

The City is developing an online dashboard for the Train for Jobs program, Lopez said, “and I can imagine there could be something similarly dynamic that we could build … for the Ready to Work initiative.”

Nirenberg, who led the campaign to get an overwhelming nearly 77 percent of voters to approve Ready to Work, said the initiative will be one of the most important pieces to kick-starting the economy post-pandemic.

“The public, with a dramatic show of support, offered us their trust to conduct a program that will quite literally change the lives and trajectory of tens of thousands of San Antonio residents,” he said. “That was the easy part. … Now it’s time to deliver.”

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