SAN ANTONIO—In daring to rethink its children’s preschool experience, this Texas city has forged a fragile codependence with its natural adversaries—independently run school districts.
In what may seem like a mutual Faustian pact, the city-funded Pre-K for San Antonio initiative convinced seven of the city’s 15 independent school districts—which operate separately from local government entities since they are funded by the state and their own fundraising efforts—to partner in an ambitious tax-funded plan to provide high-quality pre-k to thousands of its youngest citizens. Seemingly aware that pre-k can be very political, the first thing they did was set some ground rules in writing, like who’s responsible for recruiting students and tracking attendance (Pre-K 4 SA); who certifies them as qualified and reports to the state (the districts); and how state pre-k funds are distributed (of $3,200 per student, districts keep 10 percent and hand over the rest to the program). They also set up regular meetings for superintendents and program administrators to share updates and discuss necessary adjustments.
A handful of districts were eager. “We’re huge advocates of early-childhood education for children, closing those achievement gaps. Anything that we can do in the city of San Antonio, whether it’s full-day or half-day [pre-k], will begin to close those achievement gaps that begin at age two,” said Colleen Bohrmann, the executive director of curriculum compliance at North East ISD, who oversees the district’s partnership with Pre-K 4 SA. In three years, North East ISD has sent 480 toddlers to the city-run alternative. Other districts were not as enthusiastic, judging by the number of people—teachers, administrators, elected officials, those working with affiliated non-profits—who were unwilling to speak critically about the program on the record.