San Antonio

Sales Tax Referendum

In November of 2012, San Antonio voters approved a referendum to increase local sales taxes by 1/8th of a cent to fund Pre-K 4 SA, a voluntary full-day pre- kindergarten program for four-year-olds from low-income families. The sales tax increase is estimated to provide about $33.6 million per year for eight years for a total of $268 million. It is estimated to cost an additional eight dollars per household per year.


San Antonio Four-Year-Olds From Low-Income Families Enrolled in Full-Day Prekindergarten


Eligible Children Mayor Julian Castro Sought to Serve


Anti-Tax Increase Sentiment

The bipartisan, business-led task force helped gain support for a modest increase in the sales tax in a community where there was an anti-tax sentiment.

Partisan Politics

Mayor Castro was a Democrat elected in a conservative community. The campaign was positioned carefully, so it was viewed as bipartisan.

Getting to Action

Mayor Castro created a task force focusing on education outcomes. He recruited USAA CEO Major General (Ret.) Joe Robles and H-E-B (large grocery chain) Chairman and CEO Charles Bu as co-chairs. The task force was charged with addressing the following question: What is the single best use of an increase in the sales tax? The final task force report recommended investing in full-day prekindergarten.

May 2011Mayor Julian Castro announced a task force led by business leaders and education experts. The task force reviewed three areas: early childhood education, high school dropout prevention and college attainment.
June 2012Brainpower Task Force Report released. The task force recommended Pre-K 4 SA as the most effective way to change the trajectory for a child.
Aug 2012City Council consideration and approval.
Oct 2012The Pre-K 4 SA campaign raised nearly $400,000 from private individuals and corporations to elevate the visibility and support for the initiative through television, radio and other media. Many small individual donations of $7.81 were made, the same amount that the sales tax increase was estimated to cost the average household.
Nov 2012Voter Referendum Wins 53.5% to 46.4%.
Sept 2013Program begins with the operation of two centers, two more were added in 2014.


San Antonio began its third year of full-day prekindergarten in the fall of 2015. Four model education centers located in different quadrants of the city each serve 500 four-year-old children. Extended day (before and after care) is available at each of the centers. Participation is selected through a lottery administered by participating school districts. Pre-K 4 SA is free for children from low-income families who live within the seven participating school districts; ten percent of the slots are reserved for tuition paying families. Children from non-participating districts and children who do not meet the income criteria may attend and pay according to a sliding fee scale.

Beginning In 2016, competitive grants were awarded to local school districts, charter schools, private and parochial schools or community-based providers to serve an additional 1,700 children annually. The program is subject to voter reauthorization in November 2020.

Pre-K 4 SA is free for children from low-income families who live within the seven participating school districts

The City of San Antonio operates the prekindergarten program so teachers are city employees. The result: teacher compensation is substantially more than beginning K-3 teachers.

Keys to Success

Mayor and City Council championed the initiative

Initiative was time-limited (not in perpetuity)—an eight year-pilot program

Leaders built support by passing a resolution as a first step

A bi-partisan task force led by business leaders played a critical role

A broad-based advocacy effort/coalition assisted in campaigning in support of the referendum

Sufficient fundraising was in place to support the campaign