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PreK 4 SA, San Antonio’s Popular City-Run Pre-K Program, Wins Another 8 Years

By Bekah McNeel | November 4, 2020

(Courtesy of PreK 4 SA)

2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter.

Last night, San Antonio voters overwhelmingly elected to renew the city’s popular pre-k program, PreK 4 SA, drowning out any remaining questions about the program’s benefits.

The eight-year-old early childhood education initiative has so far served over 12,000 students in its four brick and mortar centers, with additional estimates near 200,000 served by professional development programs and grants to other pre-k providers.

Under the ballot measure Proposition A, voters opted to renew PreK 4 SA through the existing ⅛ cent sales tax, which generated $36.4 million in 2019. While skeptics have long questioned the per-student cost of the learning centers, at just over $11,000 per student, proponents point out that this is still lower than the national average, even if it is higher than local school districts.

Supporters also campaigned on a 2019 study showing that PreK 4 SA delivers a $3,790+ return on investment for each student enrolled.

“If we do it right on the front end, it’s a lot less expensive to educate and take care of folks in the long run,” said Sarah Baray, CEO of PreK 4 SA on local webcast Pub Theology.

The mandate given to PreK 4 SA, however, was never only to serve the 2,000 students per year in its learning centers. The learning centers, in fact, are only one part of the initiative. The grants and professional development, Baray said, are just as critical.

Voters approved the original ballot measure creating PreK 4 SA in 2012 after then-mayor Julián Castro led a campaign to improve educational outcomes across the city. Since then critics have questioned whether the gains made by Pre-K 4 SA alumni will last, and whether they extend beyond the walls of the learning centers.

Baray said she has not lost sight of the program’s original goal, and will consider the program a success when all San Antonio school children reap the benefits of high quality pre-k, which studies have shown to be lifelong.

“We’re starting to see better performance (citywide) in terms of the quality of instruction that is happening pre-k and kinder, and it’s moving up,” Baray said. “If it was set up to compete with public schools I wouldn’t have signed on.”

Under Texas’s House Bill 3 in 2019, PreK 4 SA also became an authorized Reading Academy, providing literacy instruction training to public school teachers free of charge, and is serving as a partner to help districts meet the pre-k expansion mandated by the bill.

The renewal measure was originally slated for the May municipal election, but that election was canceled due to the pandemic. Based on its eight-year funding provision PreK 4 SA had to be renewed in 2020, pushing the measure to the November election where it shared the ballot with two other City spending measures and a $1.3 billion bond for San Antonio ISD. All passed with wide margins.

2020’s KEY EDUCATION VOTES: See our full coverage of the 46 races that could reshape America’s schools following Election Day — and get the latest updates on state policies and students’ challenges during the pandemic by signing up for The 74 Newsletter

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