SAN ANTONIO—When rumored vice-presidential contender Julian Castro was still mayor of San Antonio in 2011, he asked its 1.4 million residents to think about what they wanted to see in their city in 2020. The question was both imaginative and practical, but the effort to get it answered was monumental. In two rounds of city-wide open forums—some with attendance numbering in the hundreds—residents came together at community centers, schools, and other venues to discuss issues like education, parks and recreation, transportation, workforce development, and other matters inherent to the needs of a growing city.
Kathy Bruck, a former educator in a local district and the current CEO of Pre-K for San Antonio, recalls her own reticence at the idea of a mayor asking an entire city to tell him what it wanted to see almost a decade down the line. “This is crazy, how are they going to get all these people to share ideas? I went to one of the forums and there were 500-600 people at it—boy scouts, grandma that doesn’t speak any English, military generals, CEOs, young families with kids, high school kids, college students,” she said.
The result of the weeks of conversations with residents was a book of ideas called “SA 2020.” Castro then appointed an exploratory committee dubbed “The Brainpower Task Force,” composed of business leaders and educators from colleges and larger school districts, and co-chaired by Charles Butt from the board of supermarket chain HEB and General Joe Robles, a retired CEO of USAA. Castro charged the group with evaluating the ideas and concerns assembled in the book, looking around the country for what worked, and determining the best way for San Antonio to invest in itself to be a better city in 2020 and beyond. (Among its problem areas are its high school dropout rate and low college graduation rate.) A year later, the task force came back with a single recommendation: The city should invest in its youngest residents by creating a strong, full-day pre-kindergarten program. Bruck said that the group looked at college readiness, recovery and dropout prevention, and early childhood initiatives, and determined that “getting all children in San Antonio ready for school would make the most impact.” At the time, and still today, many independent school districts in the city and throughout the state could not afford to offer full-day pre-k because the state only funds half-day programs.