By Angela Covo
San Antonio.- Should the city step in and try to reinvent pre-K at a cost of a quarter of a billion dollars? Mayor Julian Castro and County Commissioner Kevin Wolff went toe-to-toe about the pros and cons of Pre-K 4 SA during San Antonio’s own debate Monday night at the University Center at St. Mary’s University.
Both weighed in on the mayor’s signature solution for education to be considered by voters this election season because it calls for 1/8-cent sales tax hike. More than 200 people attended the event which was standing room only and scheduled just before the third and final presidential debate.
From the outset, the one thing both could agree about is that the education system in Texas is “broken.” What they could not agree on was whether it was appropriate for the city to venture into education or to increase the sales tax, especially during tough economic times.
Castro opened the debate and explained why his initiative is needed. He mentioned there could be up to 5700 San Antonio children who are eligible and may not be getting services.
“It is not worth waiting or hoping for Washington or Austin to do something for San Antonio,” he said in his remarks.
Castro said the program merits a tax increase because it will provide full-day pre-K, teacher training and model centers for excellence.
But Wolff argued that the city should not be over-stepping its bounds and that to be successful, such a program must include everybody, which Pre-K 4 SA fails to do.
“Teachers in this program will be making more than $15 to $20,000 more than teachers in public school … But here’s the part I have the greatest difficulty with… if you exclude anyone, it will not work – and this program excludes a lot. If you live in suburban cities, if you live in a Von Ormy, if you live in a Castle Hills, Hill Country Village, Windcrest, you’re excluded. Not only do you not get to vote on this, your children can’t participate. If you live in unincorporated areas of Bexar County, you will be excluded,” Wolff said.
But the mayor said sales tax is paid for at point of service no matter where you live.
“Cause you see, it’s really pay me now or pay me later,” the mayor said. “The return is that we can choose to have these young folks go in a better direction now … the research is very compelling … or we can wait until they are more likely to drop out of high school, more likely to get incarcerated, more likely to cost us money in the future…”
Louis Barrios, a restaurateur who was present at the meeting, strongly disagrees with the mayor’s approach. He believes that taking a quarter of a billion dollars out of the local economy to serve 2500 kids a year will result in higher prices at a time when people can least afford it.
“These types of programming and city ordinances raise the cost of doing business as well. It results in increases on our menu prices and leaves all the consumers with less money in their pockets,” Barrios explained.
For Wolff, the issue also raises questions about what the city’s role should be…
Finish reading Debate underscores controversy about Pre-K 4 in San Antonio