High-quality Prekindergarten: San Antonio, TX

Results and accomplishments

2,000

Children enrolled in Pre-K 4 SA services every year. Over 12,000 children have been served since 2012.

82%

Of children enrolled in Pre-K 4 SA come from low-income families

$247 million

Funding raised by Pre-K 4 SA for early childhood education since 2012

$1.56

Social benefits generated for every $1 invested in Pre-K 4 SA


  • Pre-K 4 SA has significantly expanded access to affordable, high-quality early childhood education in San Antonio. The initiative directly serves 2,000 four-year-olds per year and provides over $4 million annually to other providers to expand their early childhood education services.
  • Pre-K 4 SA was recently ranked as one of only five “gold medal” providers of early childhood education by City Health and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).
  • Since its inception, the initiative has raised $247 million for early childhood education and directly served 12,271 four-year-olds.
  • After initially being approved with 53 percent of the vote in 2012, the sales tax that funds Pre-K 4 SA received 73 percent of the vote in its reauthorizing referendum in November 2020.

Overview

Summary

  • For years, San Antonio suffered from glaring and persistent racial divides in wealth and opportunity, which impacted individuals’ economic mobility and the broader city’s economic vitality. In 2010, then-Mayor Julian Castro convened the Brainpower Taskforce, a group of civic leaders focused on improving San Antonio’s economic trajectory. The group identified high-quality early childhood education as the investment that would have the greatest positive impact on the city’s future.

  • In November 2012, voters passed a ballot measure for a 1/8th cent sales tax increase to fund investments in early childhood education, eventually known as Pre-K 4 SA. Since its inception, Pre-K 4 SA has raised $247 million for early childhood education and directly served over 12,000 four-year-olds.

  • Pre-K 4 SA operates in four education centers and serves approximately 2,000 children every year. The initiative hires Master’s level teachers, uses the evidence-based HighScope curriculum, funds professional development for educators, and uses some of its dedicated revenue to provide grants to other local early childhood education organizations.

  • Keys to the program’s success included strong leadership from then-Mayor Castro, who convened key leaders and built support for the sales tax increase; a commitment to investing in high-quality curricula, educators, and facilities to produce strong outcomes; and yearly independent evaluations to monitor progress and improve the program.

What was the challenge?

  • San Antonio had long been recognized as one of the most income-segregated cities in the nation, with glaring and persistent racial divides in wealth and opportunity.
  • Local leadership increasingly recognized that the city’s opportunity and wealth divides were due in large part to a history of discriminatory public policies, like redlining and school segregation.
  • The city had experienced low high school graduation rates for years, leading to low levels of upward economic mobility for individuals and undermining the economic vitality of the city.
  • Rates of enrollment in early childhood education were low, with few affordable options available to low- to middle-income San Antonio families.

What was the solution?

  • In 2010, following an intensive community visioning process, then-Mayor Julian Castro convened a group of civic leaders to determine which investments would most improve San Antonio’s educational and economic trajectory.
  • The group, known as the Brainpower Taskforce, spent a year comparing alternatives and ultimately decided on investing in high-quality early childhood education
  • To fund the initiative, the city placed a 1/8th cent sales tax on the ballot for November 2012. The measure passed with 53 percent of the vote.
  • With funding from the 1/8th cent sales tax, Pre-K 4 SA was positioned to provide high-quality, full-day prekindergarten to 2,000 lower-income families across the city.
  • Revenue from the sales tax would also be used to enhance and expand other early childhood education offerings across the city.

What factors drove success?

  • Strong leadership from then-Mayor Julian Castro was essential in launching the initial community visioning process, bringing civic leaders together, deciding to invest in early childhood education, and building political will for the 1/8th-cent sale tax.
  • Commitment to using evidence-based curricula, hiring high-quality teachers, and building top-notch facilities has produced strong outcomes and strengthened public enthusiasm for the initiative.
  • Yearly independent evaluations of the initiative have enabled Pre-K 4 SA to monitor and track its progress, revise and continuously improve its offerings to meet child and parent needs, and communicate results to the general public.

Timeline

Implementation process

How did leaders confront the problem?

  • San Antonio had become one of the most income-segregating cities in the nation, with glaring racial divides in wealth and opportunity.
  • In 2010, then-Mayor Julian Castro launches SA 2020, a community-wide visioning process to help set priorities in rectifying decades-long disparities. San Antonio citizens overwhelmingly identify education as their top priority.
  • Mayor Castro forms the Brainpower Taskforce, a group of business and education leaders tasked with deciding on which investments would most significantly improve San Antonio’s educational trajectory.
  • After a year of studying best practices and evidence-based programs in other cities, the taskforce determines that investing in early childhood education would produce the strongest results.

How was the strategy designed?

  • Pre-K 4 SA’s top priority was to provide the highest-quality instruction for four-year-olds. All teachers have a Master’s degree and teach the evidence-based HighScope early childhood curriculum.
  • Four specially designed Education Centers serve 500 students each. All feature outdoor learning spaces, cafes serving healthy food and snacks, and amenities for parents.
  • The program includes a strong emphasis on family engagement and parent support, with the intention of helping parents become strong advocates for their child’s education throughout their schooling.
  • To benefit the larger ecosystem of early childhood educators in San Antonio, the initiative provides professional development opportunities for all educators in the city working with children from pre-kindergarten through third grant.
  • To improve the broader landscape of early childhood education in San Antonio, the initiative provides over $4.2 million in competitive grants to local school districts, private schools, and early childhood centers every year.

How was the approach funded?

  • Texas state law allows municipalities to create publicly supported development corporations to advance workforce development goals.
  • Enabled by this statute, the City of San Antonio levies a 1/8th-cent sales tax to fund Pre-K 4 SA. The measure is approved by 53.5 percent of voters in 2012.
  • Initial projections estimated the 1/8th-cent sales tax would raise $29 million in revenue. In recent years, the tax has raised approximately $37 million annually.
  • Through partnerships with local school districts, Pre-K 4 SA also receives approximately $4 million annually from state funding for pre-kindergarten.

How was the plan implemented?

  • After the 1/8th-cent sales tax referendum passed, the City of San Antonio establishes the San Antonio Early Childhood Education Municipal Development Corporation, the entity responsible for implementation.
  • The Corporation’s Board of Directors are appointed by the Mayor and City Council in January 2013. Its Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws are also finalized at this time.
  • Then-City Manager Sheryl Sculley and then-Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni lead a breakneck, 9-month effort to launch the initiative in less than a year. Major tasks include securing and renovating the two initial education facilities, hiring leadership for the initiative, hiring 36 teachers and 36 assistant teachers, and launching an outreach and enrollment campaign.
  • The first two education centers, the North and South campuses, open in August 2013. The second two, the East and West centers, open in August 2014.

How was the approach measured and refined?

  • Pre-K 4 SA was designed to incorporate yearly, independent program assessments. Every year, Westat, Inc., the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) and Rutgers University conduct evaluations that measure cognitive, mathematics, literacy, and oral language outcomes and track the physical and social-emotional development progress of participants.
  • Classroom observations are conducted by Westat using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) to assess the quality of teacher-child interactions.
  • Westat also surveys parents and guardians of Pre-K 4 SA children about their participation and perceptions of the program, changes in their confidence and behavior as parents/guardians, and plans for their children’s kindergarten year. These findings are used to guide program improvements and services for families.
  • Results from these independent evaluations have demonstrated that both children and families are benefitting from services provided at Pre-K 4 SA centers.
Acknowledgments

Results for America would like to thank the following individuals for their help in completing this case study: Dr. Sarah Baray and Eryanne Taft of Pre-K 4 SA; Sheryl Sculley, former City Manager of San Antonio, and Elaine Mendoza, Chair of the Board of the Pre-K 4 SA Board of Directors