San Antonio Mayor Echoes Obama's Education Goals

Julian Castro, who gave the keynote speech at the Democratic convention Tuesday, is working to expand pre-K access to all.
by | August 31, 2012

It doesn’t garner as much press as the controversial health-care reform law or the sputtering economy or any of the many other sexier topics that dominate the media’s coverage of the Obama administration, but—believe it or not—the president has tried to make education reform one of the pillars of his domestic policy. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, has also set himself up as an education reformer.

Obama’s Race To The Top funding initiative stands as one of the largest infusions of federal money into public education reform in history. Policymakers from both sides have praised the White House’s waiver program for No Child Left Behind as an important step in improving a flawed law. Obama dedicated a substantial portion of his 2012 State of the Union address to laying out his vision for public education in America. He challenged states to require high school students to graduate and invest more in higher education. “To prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier,” he said.

Castro seems to have taken those words to heart, and he’s going all the way back to the beginning. The centerpiece of his education efforts is an eight-year plan to raise the city’s sales tax by one-eighth of a percent to fund full-day pre-K for up to 4,000 children that can’t presently access it. It would also enhance professional development programs, such as summer training and mentoring opportunities, for pre-K educators.

The initiative, developed in cooperation with a coalition of local business and education leaders, is expected to raise up to $29 million annually for full-day pre-K, according to the Texas Tribune. And the state would add a $10 million match. City officials estimate the tax increase would cost the average city household $7.81 per year.

Castro’s proposal came on the heels of a $200 million cut to full-day pre-K in 2011 by state lawmakers. Supporters have also cited data from the U.S. Census Bureau that ranked San Antonio 48th out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in educational attainment.

“Nobody likes a tax—there’s no way to sugarcoat it,” Castro told the Tribune. But he argued that it was a small price to pay “for a profound difference in the lives of thousands of four-year-olds.”

In early August, the San Antonio City Council OK’d putting the initiative before voters on the November ballot. The proposal has already drawn opposition from some local Republicans, but, if it gets through the voters, Castro’s office has set some lofty goals. They include reducing achievement gaps between those who already have full-day pre-K and those who currently don’t by at least 10 percent by third grade and reducing overall special education placement and grade retention by 20 to 40 percent.

Castro will be highlighting the importance of public education in his keynote address Tuesday night, his office confirmed to Governing, and he will place the issue in the context of global competiveness. While the mayor’s office did not provide excerpts of his convention speech, an Aug. 13 editorial published in the San Antonio Express on his pre-K funding proposal outlines Castro’s argument for increased investments in education. His words echoed those offered by President Obama on numerous occasions, portraying education as an economic imperative.

“It's very simple. In this 21st century global economy, brainpower is the new currency of success. Those communities that create it will be those that thrive, and those that fall short will fall behind economically,” the mayor wrote. “There will be those who focus on the word ‘tax,’ a four-letter word in today's lexicon. But the greatest cost to taxpayers would be to do nothing.”

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