By Isabel Nieves
It came down to a choice between providing preschool education to disadvantaged children in San Antonio Texas or fixing the city’s roads, and it was on the ballot last November 6. Julian Castro, San Antonio’s mayor and the son of a single mother of Mexican origin, staked the rest of his mayoral term and possibly his political future on a proposal to increase the sales tax by one eighth of a cent in order to fund preschool education for 4,000 youngsters each year.
The measure was passed by a wide margin, prompting the mayor to state that the city is ensuring early childhood education not the next two years but the next twenty years. This assertion is based on evidence regarding the effects of early childhood education on school retention and performance, some of it directly commissioned by San Antonio, as reported in an earlier entry on this blog. The evidence garnered was persuasive enough to win over ex mayors, business leaders, seven of the city’s chambers of commerce and, of course, voters. By investing in preschool education the city will save millions in remedial education and social services for school dropouts and adolescents that engage in risky behaviors and have run-ins with the law.
The experts also spoke during the campaign, reminding citizens that it is not enough to offer education to preschoolers in order to reap good results. It is not a matter of custodial care, of providing public child care services, the researchers warned. It is a matter of offering preschoolers high quality experiences and training for school readiness, including literacy and numeracy in a safe, stimulating environment. It is also important to provide this service on a full-time basis, especially for the older preschoolers, thus meeting the double goal of providing education and high quality childcare services for children of working mothers.
The new sales tax will provide San Antonio over $30 million per year for early childhood education starting in 2013, for the next eight years. An academic, evidence-based curriculum will be designed and the program will be mostly targeted to disadvantaged children, based on economic criteria. However, measures will be adopted to ensure some diversity. The initiative will be closely followed by the press, the opposition, the nation and its southern neighbors, and the academic community, and will be evaluated at the request Mayor Castro’s government. In 2020 voters will again go to the polls and decide, hopefully based on the evidence, if San Antonio’s early childhood education is to continue. Keep watching San Antonio, Texas.
Isabel Nieves worked as a Social Development Senior Specialist at the Social Protection and Health Division of the Inter-American Development Bank until September 2012.