San Antonio

Renewed Sales Tax Referendum

In November 2020, 73 percent of San Antonio voters approved an eight-year renewal of a 2012 referendum to increase the local sales tax by one-eighth of a cent to fund Pre-K 4 SA, a voluntary, full-day pre-k program for four-year-old children from low and middle-income families.

Originally passed in November 2012, the sales tax increase was estimated to generate $29 million annually but has actually generated upwards of $37 million due in part to tourism and oil and gas sales. Pre-K 4 SA receives additional revenue estimated between $10 and $12 million from state and federal funding. The sales tax funds approximately 80 percent of the program, while state and federal resources fund the remaining 20 percent.

four-year-old children served each year


Votes received in Nov 2020 to reauthorize Pre-K 4 SA’s funding


Anti-Tax Increase Sentiment

Some critics argued the city government has no role in providing pre-k education. Others viewed the initiative as “double taxation,” because existing revenue streams already funded the public half-day program at local school districts.

Reallocation of Funds

Transit advocates argued the Pre-K 4 SA sales tax should be reallocated to fund transportation expansion. San Antonio invests a half-cent sales tax toward mass transit, compared to a dedicated full cent in Dallas, Houston, and Austin.


Opponents and supporters alike questioned the $11,470 per student cost, which is higher than the average local school district but lower than the national average.


More than half of the city’s school districts chose not to participate in Pre-K 4 SA. School administrators saw Pre-K 4 SA as a potential competitor.

Getting to Action

May 2011Mayor Julian Castro announces a task force led by business leaders and education experts to determine the most effective way to improve San Antonio’s educational trajectory. The task force reviews early childhood education, high school dropout prevention, and college attainment.
June 2012The Brainpower Task Force Report is released. The task force recommends Pre-K 4 SA as the most effective way to change the educational trajectory for children in San Antonio.
Aug. 2012City Council approves the referendum for Pre-K 4 SA for the November 2012 ballot.
Oct.-Nov. 2012The Pre-K 4 SA campaign raises nearly $400,000 from private individuals and corporations to elevate visibility and support for the initiative through television, radio, and other media. The campaign encourages and receives small individual donations of $7.81—the same amount that the sales tax increase is estimated to cost the average household.

Voter referendum wins with 53.5 percent of the vote.
Aug. 2013The program begins with the operation of two centers, welcoming the first 700 students.
Nov. 2015Pre-K 4 SA begins a competitive grants program, providing more than $4.2 million per year to public, private, and parochial schools as well as licensed childcare facilities to expand access to or enhance quality of child education programs.
Jan. 2019 The University of Texas at San Antonio completes the first longitudinal impact study of students enrolled in Pre-K 4 SA during the 2013-2014 academic year. The study finds the program produced positive results on third grade reading and math scores, special education placement, and elementary school attendance.
Feb.-Mar. 2020City Council approves Pre-K 4 SA funding reauthorization for the May 2020 ballot. Poll results conducted by the political action committee—Keep PreK 4 SA—show PreK 4 SA ranks second in priority for voters in Bexar County.

Westat completes a Benefit-Cost Analysis of Pre-K 4 SA report, which finds that for every $1 spent on Pre-K 4 SA, the return on investment is $1.56, or $3,790 per child.
Nov. 2020Bexar County postpones its May 2020 municipal election due to COVID-19 and moves Pre-K 4 SA’s funding reauthorization to November. In November, reauthorization wins 73.3 percent of the vote.


  • Directly serves 2,000 four-year-old children each year 
  • Indirectly serves 13,000 children by awarding $21 million in competitive grants to early learning programs in public schools, parochial programs, and childcare centers across San Antonio
  • Has improved third-grade reading and math scores
  • Hosts annual professional development training for approximately 3,000 San Antonio teachers
  • Provides family education and employment workshops, parenting classes, adult education, family events, and kindergarten transition support services to parents/guardians
  • Has increased program attendance by about nine percent over time, triggering an increase of $23.2 million in school funding.  (In Texas, school funding is directly tied to attendance)    
  • Recently ranked as one of only five “gold medal” early childhood education providers by City Health and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

Pre-K 4 SA contains four core components: educational centers, professional development, competitive grants, and family engagement.

Keys to Success

Invests in high-quality teachers by paying above-market wage, requiring lead teachers to hold a formal degree in early childhood education, and providing three weeks of professional learning annually.

Incorporates yearly, independent program assessments as well as longitudinal impact evaluations to track student success, as measured by third-grade test scores.

Brands itself as an innovative, cutting edge program through an ongoing community engagement plan.

Conducted focus groups that showed that personal stories from Pre-K 4 SA participants transformed opposers into supporters regardless of political affiliation.

Garnered public endorsement from local chambers, including the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.