By Isabel Nieves.
Julian Castro is a lawyer and a father who wants to do something about early childhood education in the city where he lives: San Antonio, Texas. He also happens to be the mayor of the city. San Antonio´s population is over 60% Hispanic and its ties to Mexico and other Latin American countries are strong. Castro is looking south of the border and to the Caribbean for advice and inspiration on pre-kindergarten interventions, just as he is relying on a cadre of researchers and academics at home to produce evidence on which to base decision-making on social issues.
Studies that Castro has commissioned and other recent evidence from the United States show that investing in full-time early childhood education for 3 and 4 year-olds from low-income households will save millions of dollars. The border city could be saving on remedial education and other programs it uses to keep these children in school and graduate from high school later on. Also, the data suggest that attending preschool may help keep youngsters out of trouble as they grow. This is measured by rates of contacts with the justice system and substance abuse.
Castro needs no more arguments. He is ready to do something about improving full time access to early childhood education for San Antonio’s preschoolers. The challenge is how to do it, in the midst of a recession and vis-à-vis a state government that is cutting education and social services budgets. So Castro is asking San Antoninos to go to the polls in November and vote on a referendum to increase the city’s sales tax by one eight of a cent in order to raise close to US$29 million a year for early childhood education. A gutsy proposition, if not a politically correct one in a red state like Texas.
On November 7th, voters will determine if over 4,000 youngsters (most of them Hispanic) will be full-time students at public early childhood institutions in San Antonio next year. Stayed tuned…
Isabel Nieves is a Social Development Senior Specialist at the Social Protection and Health Division of the Inter-American Development Bank.