Tucson will be voting on Strong Start, an initiative to fund a preschool program through a half cent sales tax. San Antonio, Texas, has created a similar system, with significant differences. A long Politico article
has the details. Here's a brief summary.
San Antonio voted in a 1/8-cent tax to fund a pre-K program, with 54 percent voting yes. The size of the sales tax increase was the product of necessity; it was the most state law would allow. The city set up four pre-K centers, three of them built from scratch, to teach 2,000 children a year, a tenth of the city's 4-year olds (Strong Start Tucson's goal to place 8,000 three and four year olds).
The centers open at 7:15 a.m. for breakfast. The regular school day ends at 3 p.m., but about 40 percent of the kids stay for an extended day program for children of working parents, which goes to 6 p.m. Many parents say they couldn’t enroll their children in pre-school without the extended day, says Sculley. Pre-K 4 SA is free for 80 percent of the families, who qualify under the Texas law for disadvantaged or military households. The other 20 percent are middle-class families with an income of more than 185 percent of the poverty line—$44,000 for a family of four. They pay tuition based on a sliding scale.
The pre-K teachers' average salary is $66,500, more than the average San Antonio teacher salary of $51,400. As a result, the centers have found it relatively easy to attract teachers, a number of whom have come from the city's schools. Many of the teachers have received high ratings from an outside evaluator. The centers all use a curriculum from HighScope, based in Michigan, which emphasizes active, participatory learning over worksheets and skill drills. The program began in 2013, so it's a bit early to judge the educational and social results over the long term, but the implementation of the program looks to have been smooth and successful.
The program has its local detractors, of course. And given San Antonio's 1.5 million population, it educates a smaller percentage of the city's children than Strong Start Tucson proposes. If Strong Start passes, the San Antonio model is one of a number of programs around the country the board should study and evaluate to see what can be learned.