You would think that San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro would have enough to do without worrying about the availability of prekindergarten programs in his city. The Texas Constitution and state law, in fact, make state government and local school districts – not mayors – primarily responsible for the quality and funding of public education. But there is the rub, and the rub has become an open, gaping wound.
Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority neglected their constitutional and statutory duties last year when they slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets, including a $200 million state grant for fullday, preK. So Mayor Castro is attempting to help fill the gap by proposing that San Antonio increase its local sales tax by 1/8 of a cent to raise about $29 million a year to increase preK opportunities in the Alamo City.
As I have noted in previous blog posts and the San Antonio ExpressNews points out in the editorial linked below, preK education helps young children develop strong learning habits that will keep them in school in later grades and prepare them for productive lives. This early exposure to the classroom is especially important for children from lowincome, disadvantaged households. Yet, at least 4,000 4yearolds in San Antonio are falling through the cracks created by the state “leadership.”
The governor and the legislative majority have thumbed their noses at these kids. But the mayor is trying to help them. Castro’s proposed tax increase – which also would help pay for training and professional development for preK teachers still must be approved by the San Antonio City Council and by local voters. And, it may face some rough sledding, particularly if the Neanderthals who would just as soon privatize the public schools start pouring tea all over it.
But prominent, local business people, including HEB Chairman and CEO Charles Butt and USAA CEO Joe Robles, are backing the mayor, largely because they realize the future of their own businesses, as well as the local and state economies, are tied to the future of those 4yearolds whom Castro is trying to help. This is a much more realistic, mature approach than the handwringing of some business lobbyists in Austin, whose ideas for improving education amount to little more than cramming more standardized tests down the throats of school children.