If voters approve the Education and Workforce Initiative Nov. 3, the four-year plan would jump-start San Antonio’s economy after the negative effects of the coronavirus and reduce the city’s generational poverty rate, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Oct. 2 at a virtual town hall hosted by Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
Dr. Edwin Blanton, executive director of the Mays Center of Experiential Learning and Community, moderated the virtual town hall. Blanton said over 100 members of the A&M-San Antonio community watched the event on Zoom.
SA Ready to Work Proposition B will redirect the 1/8 cent sales tax used for the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program and the Linear Creekway System, and will be used to fund training of workers for in-demand industries. In-demand industries include manufacturing, aerospace, biosciences, health care, financial services, technology, cyber security, construction and trades.
The program will also provide training for workers with secondary credits, allowing them an opportunity to complete two- or four-year degree programs, Nirenberg said.
“The plan offers an opportunity for San Antonians displaced by COVID to enter a career with a future, not just a job to cover next week’s bills,” Nirenberg said.
Nirenberg said the program is part of the second phase of economic recovery that, if voted through, will build on the CARES Act and is set to begin Fall 2021. It plans to bring in 15,000 local workers into training and will provide them with a stipend during the training period. The program will be governed by the Municipal Development Corporation, which currently manages Pre-K 4 SA, and will be overseen by the Economic Development Department.
Nirenberg said the number of families facing food insecurity doubled from 60,000 families since the pandemic hit.
One in five San Antonio adults do not have a high school diploma or GED and are in the demographic most likely to file for unemployment. According to Nirenberg, they were also the group that was hit hardest since the pandemic began; about a quarter of the jobs made unavailable during the pandemic may never be available again because of closures, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We need action now,” Nirenberg said. “We have an opportunity to take all those reports, all those plans and set the stage for the future of our families, of our neighborhoods and of our city.”
The plan was put together in July by the Mayor’s Workforce and Education Leadership Task Force, which included industry and higher education leaders, including Cynthia Teniente-Matson, president of A&M-San Antonio.
“I think it shows that the public universities in San Antonio are part of the solution and that our campus is part of the thought leadership and the voices that are helping to make sure that we’re represented,” Matson said in an Zoom interview Sept. 9.
There are three propositions that are part of this one initiative. Proposition A is an eight-year renewal of the Pre-K 4 SA program, Proposition B is the SA Ready to Work plan for economic recovery and Proposition C will redirect the 1/8 cent sales tax in 2026 to fund VIA transportation improvements, Nirenberg said. The three different parts of the initiative will appear on the ballot separately and voters can vote ‘yes’ on one and ‘no’ on another.
“It makes me very proud that our university has risen to that level of consideration in the community,” Matson said.
The university gave representatives from the Faculty Senate, Staff Council and Student Government Association and the virtual audience a chance to ask questions.
SGA Vice President Armando Alanis asked the mayor what methods were being used to reach the program’s target audience. Nirenberg said the campaign has used multimedia communications to campaign for the proposition and to reach displaced individuals so they can enroll in the training program. Alanis also asked what the process was in developing the program.
“When the pandemic began and we saw the images of need in our community, it was an all-hands-on-deck moment, honestly,” Nirenberg said.
Nirenberg said any previous plans that the city had for 2020 were put on hold as he and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff made this crisis a priority. They identified how to help the community, which included making sure the community has food, housing, internet access and the ability to return to work.
A&M-San Antonio, along with the University of Texas at San Antonio and the Alamo Colleges, will be one of the curricular partners of the program, Nirenberg said. These universities and colleges will be used to provide degree programs for workers to find careers. Nirenberg said there are jobs available but not enough workers with the skills needed to fill them.
“The issue is not demand, it’s supply, and supply is a function of educational obtainment and that’s what we’re trying to address,” Nirenberg said.
Nirenberg said everyone is affected by generational poverty even if they are not displaced, making equity helpful to everyone. He urged people to vote.
“When we help our neighbors in need, when we reduce the amount of poverty in our community, when we replace dependence on social assistance with resilience and economic mobility, everyone thrives,” Nirenberg said.
Anyone who is currently displaced and is wanting to enroll in the training program can call 210-224-HELP.