SAN ANTONIO – Sarah Baray, CEO of Pre-K 4 SA, says the fear of the coronavirus pandemic meant many families were not enrolling their children into in-person pre-kindergarten classes.
“Across the nation, we are seeing that preschool enrollment’s down by about 30%, and that’s true here in San Antonio and across the city in other programs,” Baray said.
Pre-K 4 SA is a sales tax-funded program approved by voters and was renewed after last fall’s election for another eight years. The program had to cut its in-person enrollment numbers in half to comply with social distancing practices, but Baray expects they will be back to 2,000 in-person slots by next August.
Baray said she believes that children learn best when in a consistent environment.
“Young children also learn best if they are with other young children,” Baray said. “And so the in-person option really is the best way for the children to go.”
Erin Brady, the mother of a 3 1/2-year-old, says she pulled her son out of school to protect her elderly family members. But now that a vaccine has arrived, she will likely reconsider in-person Pre-K for her son next fall.
“I think next fall I am open to it, especially because my parents have both gotten the vaccine now,” Brady said. “So I feel a lot better about it.”
Camille Nixon decided to send her 4-year-old to school because she believes kids learn best when they are with other kids.
“If I were to wait, I’d still be waiting, and we’re probably still going to be waiting by next enrollment,” Nixon said.
Baray says virtual learning is still an option for those families who want to go that route. She urges families to enroll in a program because she suspects those kids who skipped Pre-K will likely need extra support when they start kindergarten.
Pre-K 4 SA lost about $3 million in funding last June. Baray says officials had to cut spending on overtime, supplies and hold off on hiring some staff positions. However, some “rainy day” funds got them through to the new school year.
Baray hopes sales taxes improve to continue with their mission to prepare more kids for the future.
“Going forward, we’re hoping that the sales tax will recover, not just because it’s good for our community, but also that means that for our own program, we’ll be able to expand to serve more children,” Baray said.
Enrollment for PreK 4 S-A starts Feb. 1.