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

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Castro got a dose of opposition from two former council members last week, both Republicans, Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff and state Rep. Lyle Larson, who argued the city doesn't have clear authority to dip its foot into education policy. In their letter to Castro, Wolff and Larson argued any increase in sales tax revenue should be spent on core city functions, like increased police or boosting funding to VIA. "Should the city be in the business of education? My opinion's no, but not because I'm making a harsh judgment on pre-K," Wolff told the Current last week.

The State of Texas currently covers half-day pre-K for children from low-income, English-as-a-second-language, military, and foster families. Many districts in the past were able to offer full-day programs with the help of state grant funding. Those grants, however, were gutted by the Legislature last session when lawmakers passed historic, deep cuts to education funding. Castro and others have argued the city needs to step in to cover the losses, and San Antonio's plan would be the first city-level effort in Texas to ensure full-day pre-K. "Here in San Antonio we have an opportunity to control our own destiny," Castro said before last week's vote. "We can't wait for Washington and Austin to ensure our young minds are well developed."

"Look, I will absolutely fault the Legislature for not doing it (education) correctly, but I'm not sure the best strategy is to create something new rather than fix the system that's broken," Wolff insisted last week.

At the dais, Councilman Soules went so far as to say, "I'm not sure the situation is as dire as it's made out to be."

It's notable that Wolff paired with Larson to pen the letter to Castro — Larson, like most of his GOP colleagues, voted for the deep education cuts last round at the Lege. "I get that point," Wolff said. "But having him (Larson) sign that letter, from my perspective, puts him under even more pressure to fix what he knows as well as I do is broken." Larson failed to return calls for comment last week.

Now it's up to the citizens of San Antonio to decide whether it's the city's job to dive headfirst into education. Castro's already begun his full-court press to see the measure pass. In an Express-News op-ed Monday, Castro delivered what's sure to be the first of many appeals to SA voters. "The research is unequivocal," he wrote. "If we are going to change the educational trajectory of our young people, you get the most return on investment by starting early, before a child falls behind, rather than trying to catch them up later. … There will be those who focus on the word 'tax,' a four-letter word in today's lexicon. But the greatest cost to taxpayers would be to do nothing."

Opposition to GEO-run state psych hospital

Turning over management of a state psychiatric hospital to a private-prison subsidiary, what could go wrong? Plenty, says a coalition of over a dozen state and local civil rights, mental health, public policy, and faith-based groups who are pushing for the Texas Department of State Health Services, Gov. Rick Perry, and the Legislative Budget Board to quash a bid by GEO Care, a wing of private-prison giant GEO Group, to run one of DSHS's state hospitals. GEO was the only company that responded to the DSHS request as the department preps to privatize one of its state hospitals, the notion being that a private contractor can operate at 10 percent below current costs and save the state millions annually.

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