Updated 3:20 pm CST, Wednesday, January 16, 2019
No, Pre-K 4 SA is not a “universal” preschool program for San Antonio’s 4-year-olds.
Not everyone of San Antonio’s 25,000 4-year-olds are enrolled in a preschool. But you might not realize that when digesting news reports this week about Julián Castro’s presidential campaign.
As they have for years, national commentators and journalists have been attaching the adjective “universal” to the program that Castro championed as mayor in 2012 by convincing voters to fund it with part of the city’s sales tax.
Like many progressive Democrats, Castro favors universal access to pre-school as a national policy, and he referenced the city program in repeating that position at his presidential campaign announcement here Saturday, later tweeting, “As President, we’ll make Prek4USA happen —universal pre-kindergarten for all children whose parents want it, so that all of our nation’s students can get a strong start.”
Castro also retweeted an admirer’s assertion that as mayor he had “convinced business leaders and citizens that devoting a portion of their sales tax to fund universal PreK was a smart investment.”
The New York Times credited Castro with achieving a universal pre-K program with a local sales tax. The Washington Post also called it universal.
It was indeed Mayor Castro’s signature program. In his recently published memoir, he called it one of his “proudest achievements.”
Assembling up to 2,000 kids from all over the sprawling city in four regional preschool centers, it also required the sometimes skeptical cooperation of most of the city’s many school boards to provide some of their state funding to make it work.
But only 2,050 children, about 8 percent of the city’s 4-year-olds, attended one of the four centers in the 2017-2018 school year.
The longterm goal of Pre-K 4 SA, however, is to have high quality seats for all of San Antonio’s 25,000 4-year-olds through their traditional public schools, charters, private schools and others, said Sarah Baray, the program’s CEO.
Besides offering the four centers as a model for others, PreK 4 SA provides grants to help schools implement the high quality curriculum it uses, and trains educators from partnering school districts.
The program plans to distribute more than $8.5 million in competitive grants for the two school years ending in spring 2020. It gave about the same amount in the 2016-2018 school years, according to reports distributed to city council members to show the impact in their districts. The same reports show 656 educators and 110 campuses were impacted in the first quarter.
“What Pre-K 4 SA is about is creating a very high quality model and then being able to replicate that in other programs,” Baray said.
But Pre-K 4 SA wouldn’t provide it in its four centers — the program provides infrastructure to make it better, she said.
“We’re not universal. We lead with quality rather than access,” Baray said. “It’s better to have fewer seats that are high quality than more seats that are mediocre.”
Krista Torralva covers several school districts and public universities in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | [email protected] | Twitter: @KMTorralva
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