Pre-K 4 SA supporters ask voters for another 8 years

Renewal of 1/8 cent sales tax to appear on Nov. 3 ballot

The sales tax vote was originally supposed to happen in May, but was moved due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio voters will be asked about a trio of sales tax initiatives on the Nov. 3 ballot, including a familiar program - Pre-K 4 SA.

While much of the attention has been on the city and VIA officials' plans to share a 1/8 cent sales tax for workforce development and later for transportation, the future of Pre-K 4 SA’s separate 1/8 cent sales tax will also be up in the air. Its supporters hope voters will decide to renew the tax that provides most of the early childhood education program’s budget for another eight years.

“If they - voters - decide not to approve it, we basically come to the end at the end of the school year in June of next year,” said Elaine Mendoza, chairwoman of the Pre-K 4 SA Board of Directors and one of the tri-chairs for the “Keep Pre-K 4 SA” political action committee.

The tax renewal was originally scheduled for a vote in May, but it was bumped to the November election because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will appear as Proposition A near the end of the City of San Antonio voters' ballots.

Pre-K 4 SA, for which voters first approved the 1/8 cent sales tax in 2012, is best known for providing full-day, pre-kindergarten education for up to 2,000 San Antonio 4-year-olds each year at its four education centers. Most of the children meet state criteria for a free, pre-K education, while others attend on a sliding payment scale.

Pre-K 4 SA also provides grants to other area schools and childcare centers to help increase early learning around the city. It also offers professional learning and family engagement programs.

While the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3 in 2019, which included funding for full-day pre-K education at school districts - as well as a requirement to offer it to all eligible 4-year-olds - Pre-K 4 SA supporters say there is still a need for the program.

Pre-K 4 SA CEO Sarah Baray said school districts are allowed several years to ramp up to full-day pre-K requirement under HB 3. Additionally, she said the state isn’t providing enough money to “make sure that all of those programs meet all quality indicators."

“So districts are having to put their own money in to make sure that happens or get support from programs like Pre-K 4 SA, which all of them were ramping up to do. But now that there are going to be funding gaps for the state and probably for school districts, all that is on the table,” Baray said, noting the coming budget challenges from COVID-19.

Mendoza also said she expected state funding to be “a challenge" because of the pandemic.

“So truly, more than ever is when we need Pre-K for SA to continue that authorization moving forward so that we can continue the momentum we’ve established in economic development by investing in workforce development. And that’s what this is all about,” Mendoza said.

If the sales tax is approved again, Baray said Pre-K 4 SA plans to leverage the additional state funding to cover children from families in the $45,000 to $65,000 annual income range. These families, she said, fall in a gap between being eligible for free pre-K education and being able to afford it privately.

The plan, when Baray had originally presented it to the City Council, was to help cover the cost for about 3,000 families.

“So we anticipate of those 3,000, we would serve 500 in our centers and then the other 2,500 would be seats created in partnership through the grants program and through support,” Baray told KSAT Monday.

However, she said they don’t yet know how many families may fall in that gap anymore. Because of the pandemic, job loss could have caused more families to fall into that gap, or caused some to fall even further down the economic ladder to where they now qualify for a free, pre-K education under state guidelines.

Baray said Pre-K 4 SA is still focused on helping the most vulnerable children in the community and then expanding to help families in the gap.

“But what we don’t know is how long it will take us to ramp up to that, because we don’t know quite yet what all the numbers are from the pandemic,” Baray said.

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Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.