San Antonio – The San Antonio City Council is poised to vote whether to put a 1/8 cent sales tax to fund Pre-K 4 SA on the May ballot at a time when a new poll shows strong support for the issue.
Pre-K 4 SA runs four centers around San Antonio that offer free and reduced-priced prekindergarten education, professional development for educators and providing grants that support students in other programs.
More than three-quarters of its budget come from the sales tax that voters approved in 2012, but which will expire in 2021.
“Without that funding, we could not continue on,” said Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray.
Fortunately for the program’s supporters, results of the Bexar Facts-KSAT-Rivard Report Poll just released Tuesday show 68 percent of the 651 likely voters interviewed supported extending the tax.
“It seems like the voters, at least in that poll, understand the benefits of all kinds of initiatives in our city and are supportive of doing things that will make our future brighter across San Antonio,” Baray said.
The City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday whether to place a question on extending the tax for another eight years onto the May ballot. Pre-K 4 SA’s board chairwoman told the council she preferred the election for the tax be held in November instead of May for a number of reasons, including the fact that there are other education-related items on the ballot.
Most of the council members expressed strong support for the program during a Jan. 15 presentation and appeared ready to support the May election.
However, District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry said he will vote against it and he is “sure this is going to be a continuing dialogue whether we should even do this or not.”
Pre-K 4 SA is up for renewal of its funding at the same time Mayor Ron Nirenberg and other transportation advocates want to use a different 1/8 cent sales tax, which currently funds the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program and the expansion of the linear park system, to send more money to VIA Metropolitan Transit. Nirenberg wants to find another funding source for the EAPP, but nothing has been finalized.
Bexar Facts Poll results showed 80 percent supported extending the EAPP and linear park system’s tax revenue, more than Pre-K 4 SA.
Last month, State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, suggested targeting Pre-K 4 SA’s sales tax rather than the aquifer protection program’s.
In an open letter to Nirenberg, Larson wrote “Eliminating funding from a program that has protected our community’s most important water source for decades makes little sense, especially when there are other available funding sources that are currently dedicated to duplicative programs. Since the Legislature acted in 2019, through House Bill 3, to require school districts to offer full day prekindergarten and appropriated $780 million for the state’s Early Education Allotment, it appears that all local school districts will be able to provide the services that Pre-K 4 SA currently delivers.”
But Baray said the bill Larson referred to “doesn’t cover all of the cost of high quality, full-day Pre-K. And most importantly, it doesn’t actually increase the number of children who are eligible for full four full day Pre-K.”
But Baray said the Pre-K 4 SA program could educatate more children because there are plans to help expand access to prekindergarten for 3,000 more families through its centers and partner programs.
Those families would be ones who wouldn’t normally qualify to attend prekindergarten for free, but who also would likely not be able to pay for it on their own.
“There’s a huge gap because for those families that fall in that gap, high-quality Pre-K is just as important for their children as it is for everybody else’s,” ,” Baray said.
Whatever their doubts, if the issues makes it onto a ballot, it won’t be elected officials that decide whether the tax continues.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to be up to the voters whether they want to continue to fund an additional school system with their city tax dollars versus letting the state take on that burden,” Perry said during the January presentation.