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Newsmonger: Hill Country unfair?, Public to vote on Brainpower

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Hill Country unfair?

About a dozen teenagers and organizers with Southwest Workers Union protested outside an Eastside H-E-B on the corner of Houston and New Braunfels last week, saying they spent over a year surveying food at H-E-B stores, finding major discrepancies in produce quality and healthy food options at stores in economically depressed areas compared to wealthier parts of San Antonio. More at:

Public to vote on Brainpower

Mayor Julián Castro got caught in an insidery, pundit-driven whirlwind of hype two weeks back when the Democratic National Committee tapped him to give the closely watched keynote at the party's upcoming convention. Swatting away speculation over his political future, and to what heights the keynote might launch his career, Castro had more important things to discuss when the Texas Tribune came calling: "San Antonio's long-term challenge is to create a well-educated workforce," he said, "and we need to start early." San Antonio voters in November will get the chance to either bless or stall Castro's vision to boost educational attainment in the city. In a long-awaited vote, Council last week unanimously approved putting Castro's proposal to max out SA's sales tax, an increase of one-eighth-cent to the state maximum of 8.25 percent to fund an ambitious program boosting local access to full-day pre-K, on the November ballot.

Council's three Northside and predictably conservative members — Reed Williams, Elisa Chan, and Carlton Soules — voted to put the measure up for voter approval, despite stated reservations, although in a symbolic gesture of disapproval each voted against a resolution to create the municipal body the city needs to channel the new tax proceeds toward Castro's initiative, dubbed Pre-K 4 SA. Castro has now passed a critical hurdle in a plan upon which he's staked his entire mayoral tenure. With some of the biggest support coming from the business community itself, Castro tapped H-E-B chairman and CEO Charles Butt and USAA President and CEO Joe Robles to sit on the Brainpower Taskforce that studied and eventually recommended the pre-K program. In addition, Castro got an overwhelming blessing from educators and former mayors who turned out in council chambers last week to laud the project.

Tessa Pollack, president of Our Lady of the Lake University, said recent census data showing San Antonio ranks near the bottom of the country's top 50 cities in education attainment, along with a new Pew Research Center data showing San Antonio's one of the most economically segregated cities in the country, have provided "multiple whacks on the side of the head." The plan, she said would "academically ground children in every quadrant of San Antonio." If authorized by voters for its initial eight-year run, Pre-K 4 SA would generate about $30 million in additional sales tax revenue for the city annually, helping shuffle a total of 22,400 4-year-olds into full-day pre-K. The annual cost to the median household in SA is estimated at $7.81.

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