Expanding the Commission’s Talent Agenda to include San Antonio Families

Policy Recommendation

As the City of San Antonio continues to grow, it is crucial that we prioritize the development of our youngest and increasingly vulnerable residents so that the talent needs of tomorrow will be fully met. To ensure San Antonio has the future leaders and workforce it needs, we recommend dedicating 20% of the growth in COSA’s annual revenue (compared to the baseline year) to additional grantmaking and initiatives focused on young San Antonians ages 0-24. Had this policy been in place for the city’s current fiscal year, it would have generated roughly $65 million.

Meeting the Persistent Need

In 2021, following the completion of a comprehensive fiscal map, UP Partnership organized a Strategic Funding Task Force composed of representatives from over 60 organizations, including youth leaders, who serve young people and families from all city council districts. Their diligent efforts revealed major gaps in necessary support for young people across the cradle to career spectrum.

In every council district in San Antonio there are young people with persistent and overwhelming needs, which is why according to the most recent Status of Poverty report, the under 18 age range accounts for more than half of our residents living in poverty. Available data makes clear that young San Antonians across our community struggle with not just academics, but also linked challenges like chronic absenteeism, drug poisoning, and mental health challenges needing medical support. This is why we can no longer let children and youth be under-resourced. With this dedicated stream of revenue, City Council would be able to reflexively direct more investments to programs that meet their communities’ needs as they emerge and shift over time.

These new investments can stand on the shoulders of the city’s current investments that support impactful programs. For example, the NxT Level program started by the Department of Human Services is actively changing the lives and trajectories of young people who have become disconnected from school or work, AlamoPROMISE is dramatically expanding pathways to a postsecondary credential, and dozens of out-of-school time providers are helping to improve student promotion to the next grade. In a recent study of 14,978 students who took part in afterschool programming in our community, 94% were promoted to the next grade level, compared to 85% of all ISD students in school districts that shared their data. Efforts like these demonstrate the availability of proven programs that are ready to benefit more young people – efforts that can be complemented or scaled to reach more children and youth.

Justification for Set-Aside

Though young San Antonians will comprise the future of our city’s leadership, workforce, and tax base, most of them cannot vote and thus are consistently overlooked in decisions about where to spend revenue growth. We know that young San Antonians, ages 0-24, account for 35% of our city (515,000 of 1,472,000 residents) but funding directed toward children and young people represented only 6% of the City’s General Fund budget in both 2019 and 2024. With the recommended set-aside, this percentage would increase annually in a responsible way, with the support of an ongoing baseline budget comparison to ensure steady growth.

Implications for Talent

This ongoing investment mechanism will help guarantee that in the coming decades we have a steady stream of capable public servants, business leaders, firefighters, teachers, community builders, affordable housing developers, and a vast array of other key roles. This charter change would also help ensure that today’s workforce has the support that their families need and deserve.

Distinction from Appropriation

Dedicating a percentage of COSA’s annual revenue growth to children and youth is distinct from an appropriation. The specific programs for investment would be annually determined by the City Council to support the needs of their communities. Rather than earmarking funds for specific programs, this set-aside approach allows for flexibility in how the allocated resources are utilized each year. The City Council will still have the responsibility to assign these protected dollars, equitably, based on their communities’ most pressing needs and priorities.

Why Act Now

The success of our young people is crucial to our dreams and ambitions as a city. This is a fact that most voters recognize. According to a 2021 national poll by FM3 Research, voters across the country overwhelmingly want city leaders to support the needs of children and youth.1 Meanwhile, if structural investments are not expanded in a manner that aims for more transformative child and youth outcomes then our city will continue to live with intergenerational poverty for decades to come.

In the words of UTSA professor Roger Enriquez, “[p]eople think it’s expensive to keep kids engaged—or finding ways to keep them engaged. You think that’s expensive? Wait until they get disengaged to get them back in the workforce, to get them back in school.” By advancing this policy recommendation, the Charter Review Commission can and should expand its agenda to more directly benefit San Antonio families, focusing on not just talent attraction and retention but also talent development.

1 The support held up across specific issue areas: 79% said ‘Youth mental health services’ was a high or very high priority; 75% said ‘Maternal and infant health services’ was a high or very high priority; 73% said ‘After-school and summer programs’ was a high or very high priority; 70% said ‘High-quality infant and toddler child care’ was a high or very high priority. Overall, 82% of voters say “giving children a strong start in life is as important to them as strengthening the economy.”