In Texas's climate of reactionary slashing and burning of a deficit ridden state budget, simple common sense governing can seem like an act of heroism.
Enter San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to save the day, or at least pre-K.
Mayor Julian Castro wants to raise taxes (gasp) one-eighth of a cent to fund full-day prekindergarten programs in San Antonio. This is targeted for low-income families, and will be levied through the city sales tax. The proposal is set to go before the San Antonio City Council in August and if the city approves the proposal it will go to voters in November.
This measure is a response to the Texas Legislature's $200 million budget cuts to full-day pre-K funding. The state currently supports half-day pre-K funding for homeless, low-income, foster, and military families. The problem is that many of these half-day pre-K programs expanded to full-day pre-K ones with grant money from the State of Texas. That money, $208 million, was cut last session.
“The need for this type of investment has been there for a long period of time, but the severe cuts in 2011 made it even more urgent,” Mayor Castro told The Texas Tribune. “Nobody likes a tax – there's no way to sugarcoat it.” Mayor Castro added that the estimated cost would only amount to $7.81 a year for the average household, which is a small price to pay “for a profound difference in the lives of thousands of 4-year-olds.”
The program is estimated to raise $29 million a year with the state matching an additional $10 million. Pre-kindergarten care, particularly full day care is shown to reduce referrals to special education programs, increase overall graduation rates and decrease juvenile crime and drop out rates. Within two years the Mayor's initiative is expected to expand pre-K programs to 4,500 kids, and also fund teacher training.
The Mayor's proposal has the strong support of the local business community with leaders on board such as Charles Butt, chairman and CEO of HEB, and Joe Robles, President and CEO of U.S.A.A. Local education leaders like John Folks, superintendent of Northside ISD, and Ana Guzman, President of Palo Alto College are also in support of the mayor.
A Little History:
The Texas Legislature's failure to fund basic pre-K programs goes back to the 2011 “tea-party” legislature, when they cut the $208 million in grants that supported full-day pre-K funding. But the session before that in 2009 there was strong bipartisan support among legislators for a need fund these vital programs. Back in 2009 there was an unprecedented bi-partisan consensus for an expansion of full-day Pre-K funding. HB 130 proposed by Republican Diane Patrick extended the full day pre-K benefits by $25 million, with an estimated overall savings of $87 million. Sadly, in a not un-precedented but still shocking move, Rick Perry vetoed this bill despite the fact that it was authored by a fellow Republican and had been carefully crafted with strong bi-partisan support.
Kudos to Mayor Castro for making this small but significant measure that is sadly long overdue in Texas.