By Katherine Leal Unmuth
Latino Ed Beat
Squeezed into his speech supporting President Obama and telling his own story, he briefly mentioned a passion project of his own – increasing the number of children enrolled in full-day pre-kindergarten in San Antonio.
“We know that pre-K and student loans aren’t charity,” he said. “They’re a smart investment in a workforce that can fill and create the jobs of tomorrow. We’re investing in our young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”
Despite education being a key issue for Latinos, it so far has not been mentioned much in the run-up to the election.
In San Antonio, Castro has proposed a one-eighth-cent sales tax that would pay to expand full-day pre-K classes to more 4-year-olds. San Antonians will go to the polls on Nov. 6 to vote on the Pre-K 4 SA proposal. The San Antonio Express-News reported that as locals watched the speech on television, former Northside Independent School District trustee Ray Lopez yelled “Sell it, boy! Sell it!”
According to a fact sheet from the mayor, about 5,700 4-year-olds in the city are eligible for state-funded Pre-K but are not enrolled in full-day programs. Some are not enrolled in any program and others attend half-day programs. He estimates that the tax could fund full-day classes for more than 22,000 children over an eight-year period. The city would open four education centers with classrooms, rooms for use by parents and teacher training space.
Castro proposed the pre-K initiative after a task force he commissioned recommended that expanding early learning would have the biggest impact on raising education levels in the city. Latino children have lower preschool attendance rates than both black and white children. The recent Kids Count study found that between 2008 and 2010, about 63 percent of Latino children did not attend preschool.
Castro believes the initiative will free teachers from slowing lessons down for children who weren’t in pre-K classes.
San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldana recently wrote a commentary in support of the proposal.
“The aim of the proposed initiative is not to replace the role of parents; it is simply to put more four-year-olds in front of a professional educator at a time they are most likely to be receptive to positive development,” he wrote.
There are some critics. Judson Independent School District trustee Steve Salyer wrote an opinion piece calling the initiative a “band-aid” that is only a stop-gap measure until the Texas Legislature needs to adequately fund public education.
Castro, a Mexican-American, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School and grew up on the city’s economically depressed west side. About 95 percent of Jefferson’s students are Latino and 85 percent are economically disadvantaged. He graduated from Stanford University and then went on to attend Harvard Law School, often crediting affirmative action with getting them there. His wife is a trained teacher and he has a three-year-old daughter himself.
Castro also mentioned Pell grants and the new pathway to temporary legal status for undocumented immigrant students. He mentioned that San Antonio also opened a program called Cafe College, offering students help with preparing for tests and filling out financial aid forms.