A Community’s Bold Idea Flourishes into a Prosperous Future
In 2012 when Pre-K 4 SA was on the ballot for the first time, the program was little more than a well-researched, innovative idea. Many wondered whether the city had the capacity to oversee an early education program and whether this new program would be discernibly different from existing programs. Some questioned how one year of prekindergarten could actually make a lasting difference for children, no matter how good the program. It speaks volumes about who San Antonio is as a community that even with these questions, the community said “Yes” to investing in our youngest learners.
Eight years later, Pre-K 4 SA has proven its worth and San Antonio proves to be the wise investor other cities are trying to emulate. Since San Antonio launched Pre-K 4 SA, dozens of cities have followed suit and created their own preschool programs. Even more are strategizing how to institute a similar program. What once seemed improbable—cities in the early learning business—is now so commonplace that Pre-K 4 SA has been featured at the annual conferences for the two largest municipal government organizations—the International City Managers Association and the National League of Cities.
One of the reasons so many other cities want their own version of Pre-K 4 SA is that the results are so clear. San Antonio has shown that you can take high-quality early learning to scale and change the long-term educational trajectory for thousands of children every year. The Brain Power Taskforce—a visionary group of CEOs, college presidents, superintendents, and civic leaders who conceptualized Pre-K 4 SA—had the foresight to make external evaluation a central tenet of the program design.
Consequently, Pre-K 4 SA has been studied by independent researchers since its inception. The results of this research provide unequivocal evidence that children do better, families do better, and the community does better because of Pre-K 4 SA. Evaluation of student outcomes indicates that although children who attend Pre-K 4 SA tend to enter the program below national norms in key indicators, they leave the program well above national norms and more than ready for kindergarten (Westat 2018). They also have higher third-grade math and reading scores and better attendance than their peers (Villarreal, 2019). Families who participate in the Pre-K 4 SA extended day program earn an average of $15,000 more in annual income (Westat, 2020) because they are able to work or go to school full-time. And, the San Antonio community has realized a profit of $59 million in measurable benefits as a result of Pre-K 4 SA (Westat, Teachers College & University of Pennsylvania, 2020). For the last eight years, Pre-K 4 SA has helped San Antonio lay the foundation for a more productive workforce, healthier and more engaged families, less poverty, and more civic-minded young adults. This extraordinary initiative is just getting started and only together as a community we can continue to invest in San Antonio’s youngest learners for a brighter future.
Before I came to Pre-K 4 SA, I was a college professor who conducted research to understand what it takes to create schools that serve all, not just some, children well. In fact, in 2012 when the citizens of San Antonio were boldly launching what would become a national early learning movement, I was living in Austin and searching across the world for examples of high-performing, equitable schools. Little did I know then that what I was looking for was just down the highway, right here in San Antonio!
I have often told the story of walking into a Pre-K 4 SA Education Center for the first time and being completely astounded by what I saw. In my research of schools, I had seen pockets of excellence and large swaths of mediocrity. I had observed outstanding teachers and visited classrooms where children were learning at high levels, but those were the exceptions. What I had never seen was an entire system, building by building, classroom after classroom, filled with joyful, highly engaged children and teachers. I had also never seen schools that were part of a system that was strategically designed to deliver on the promise of high-quality early learning not just in a few schools, but across a city’s entire early learning landscape. But there I was standing in such a place, and I realized one way or another I had to become a part of this bold initiative known as Pre-K 4 SA.
I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to lead a remarkable program like Pre-K 4 SA and I am equally grateful that I get to be part of the San Antonio community. On Tuesday, November 3rd, San Antonio will once again have the chance to decide whether to invest in our future by investing in our youngest learners. While I do not know how the vote will go, I am confident that San Antonio will turn out in large numbers to weigh in on this important decision. One thing I’ve learned since moving to San Antonio is that San Antonio is not just a city, realmente es una comunidad. It’s a strong, family-oriented community that works together and truly believes in their children to lead San Antonio into a prosperous future.
Written by: Sarah Baray, Pre-K 4 SA CEO