We think Councilwoman Chan’s weekly email to district residents offers a timely briefing on the Brainpower Initiative, Mayor Julián Castro’s early childhood development proposal that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot. Chan’s email gives a good overview of the numbers. Elsewhere on this page you can read the thoughtful perspective of pre-K teacher Erin Carroll on the importance of the initiative.

Dear District 9 Residents & Friends,

Over the past few weeks, many of you have been asking about the Mayor’s Brainpower Initiative, which would be funded by increasing the City’s sales tax rate by 1/8th-cent. This proposition will be on the November 6th, 2012 ballot and must be approved by the voters to take effect. As promised, I am sending you what I know thus far and I will continue to update you as more information becomes available.

Background

As far back as March 19th, 2011, during the unveiling of the SA 2020 report, Mayor Castro has been publicly discussing the need for improving the learning conditions of the youth in San Antonio. During the unveiling that day, the mayor announced the formation of the Brainpower Initiative Task Force. The job asked of them by the mayor was to search the educational landscape for proven programs that demonstrate results based success in at least one of the following areas: kindergarten readiness, dropout prevention and college matriculation.

Also, during the SA 2020 announcement, the mayor named USAA President and CEO Joe Robles Jr. and H-E-B CEO Charles Butt as chairman and honorary chairman to identify a potential sales-tax proposal to take to voters in November 2012.

With the Brainpower Initiative Chairman and honorary chairman in place, the Brainpower Initiative Task Force began working to find what would be the best fit for our city as it relates to the learning conditions of our youth.

During the City Council B Session of June 20th, 2012, the task force reported that the most gains we could experience in education would happen at the pre-kindergarten level and presented the preliminary plan for the initiative. City Manager Sheryl Sculley is now working on the details of an implementation plan, which she will present at a second B session on August 1st, 2012.

Target Audience

As the program was explained during the original B Session, it assumes an approximate population of 20,000 4 year-olds in San Antonio where 16,000 of them are annually eligible for half-day pre-kindergarten under state and federal provisions and guidelines. Of the 16,000 eligible students, 12,000 of them are currently served through the Federal Head Start program and the state-funded pre-kindergarten program.

The Brainpower Initiative will aim to provide full-day pre-kindergarten opportunities to the 4,000 4-year olds who either receive no pre-kindergarten services at all or are only served by a half-day program. The program would be funded through a 1/8th-cent City sales tax in an effort to make these children “Kinder Ready.” Once the tax is collected and ready for implementation, 700 students out of the 4,000 will participate in Year 1 pre-kindergarten programming after having been selected through a lottery system.

Strategy

If approved by the voters in November, this initiative will invest in a three-part strategy to serve 4,500 children annually, with a focus on those who are at risk of not being prepared to hit the ground running in kindergarten. It will serve an estimated 19,275 children over 5 years. The strategy includes:
Establish two world-class early learning centers that serve 700 children and model best practices. In subsequent years, develop additional exemplary centers to serve an additional 800 children. Participating students will be chosen through a lottery.
Raise student achievement in existing Pre-K classes through citywide capacity-building and support for all Pre-K teachers to create a highly capable Pre-K workforce that consistently demonstrates effective teaching of young children.
Serve an additional 3,300 4-year-olds who are eligible under state and federal guidelines but not currently enrolled in full-day Pre-K, and incentivize providers to serve an additional 500 children through a sliding scale. (800 of those 3,300 will be served in model centers in later years.)
Governing Structure

This initiative will employ an executive director, who will be responsible to a board of directors appointed by the City Council and reporting to the City Manager. The executive director will be in charge of overseeing the two learning centers and will be in charge of recruiting and hiring qualified people to work at the centers to ensure that they are run as planned.

Funding & Proposed Budgets

The sales tax revenues are projected at $146.6 million over the course of the five years of the sales tax. In order to be appropriately conservative – and to account for some additional costs that have not yet been fully totaled (such as transportation to the model centers), the Brainpower Task Force’s recommended budget is for $140.1 million. This provides a buffer of $4.5 million.

2013

2014

2015, 2016 & 2017

Performance Measurement

The annual assessment tool for the Brainpower Initiative is still in the developmental stage. According to the mayor’s task force report, the performance measure component will be addressed primarily in two ways: 1) performance measures will be used as an assessment for both overall program efficiencies and classroom techniques that spawn academic growth and improving and 2) the third grade 2012 STAAR exam will serve as an external measure. The results of the 2012 exam will serve as the baseline score and will be compared to the scores of the STAAR exam derived from the first pre-kindergarten Brainpower Initiative cohort. The results of the 2012 STAAR exam have yet to be made available to the City from the Texas Education Agency.
What Comes Next?

On Wednesday, August 1st, there will be a City Council “B” Session meeting that will serve as a follow up to the “B” Session from last month where the City Manager and her team will be addressing answers to the questions, budget implications, and a business plan for implementation of the proposed initiative.

That being said, Ms. Sculley and her team are developing a proposed action plan for the next 12 months, should this measure be passed by the voters in November, and is divided into three phases:
Objectives that should and can be accomplished between now and the August 1st B session on the Brainpower Initiative.
The work plan between August 1st and November 6th,
Subject to the outcome of the November 6th election, the work plan between November 7th and July 31st, 2013 to construct or renovate the centers, select the children to be served, teachers, the Brainpower CEO and execute any necessary contracts with the 15 school districts.
City staff plans to prepare a one page list of basic statistics & data including San Antonio demographics related to poverty, pre-K children served and under-served and how the Brainpower Initiative compares and contrasts with Head Start.

City staff intends to analyze the operating budget for the Brainpower Initiative developed by the consultant and will analyze the capital investment necessary to accommodate the 700 children at the two proposed centers. They will also be outlining the working relationships and reporting responsibilities among staff that they recommend to ensure success of this initiative going forward.

I will do my best to continue to provide you with as much information as possible so that you can make an informed decision when you cast your vote on this issue in November.

As always, please contact me with any questions or comments.
Respectfully,
W. Elisa Chan

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