Commentary: Pre-K 4 SA about health equity too

The health of a person or a community is determined by a whole lot more than you might think. It’s more than diet and exercise and checking in with your doctor once a year. A person's health is determined, in part, by a whole number of factors such as the type of housing you live in to the number of grocery stores near you, to the number of parks in your neighborhood or the condition of the roads and sidewalks where you live. One factor that plays an outsized role in helping determine your health is the educational opportunities available to you. 

Education can be the silver bullet to helping improve the health of a community. That is why it is critically important for our community to continue investing and expanding the Pre-K 4 SA program our community voted on and initiated eight years ago.

By most measures, Pre-K 4 SA has been a tremendous success and it has become a national model for other communities to follow. Since the program began, Pre-K 4 SA has directly served 25,000 students, and will have collectively impacted 452,161 four-year-olds within the San Antonio community through all of the programming, grants and centers it supports. 

Pre-K 4 SA has been proven to increase kindergarten readiness, increase third grade test scores, decrease the need for special education placement and additional readiness support. This readiness is a vitally important factor in whether someone graduates from high school. In fact, a 2012 study shows that about 16 percent of children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade do not graduate from high school on time. For children who were poor, lived in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and not reading proficiently, the proportion jumped to 35 percent.

We know that high school graduation is the most important long-term, modifiable predictor of health outcomes and it determines one's likelihood of getting a job—one that is likely to offer health insurance, improving their access to care—having financial security, and improving their access to healthy food. 

Pre-K for SA also increased employment and wage earnings for the 21,000 teachers who have been trained throughout San Antonio and received 218,000 hours of professional development and training. 

A vote for Pre-K 4 SA is a vote for health equity, which we believe is both the process and the goal by which we can recognize and address the inequities inherent in our communities that contribute to poor health outcomes. Health Equity is a framework of thought and action that strives to reduce racial and socio-economic disparities and creates fair and just opportunities for people to reach their full potential for health and life and contribute to that of others.

This program has been proven to be successful at helping improve educational outcomes in its first eight years—imagine what the next eight will bring as the four-year olds that first started in the program advance through elementary, middile school and into high school. Imagine the boost, financial and emotional, that parents receive by knowing their kids are getting a shot to succeed and do better than they might have. That's the American dream, isn't it?

As you go to the polls in San Antonio during this important election, I urge you to cast your ballot in favor of Proposition A. We have more work to do for our children and Pre-K 4 SA is part of the key to a brighter future, full of opportunity and success for our community.

Jaime Wesolowski is the President & CEO of Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., a faith-based, not-for-profit organization working to create access to care for low-income, uninsured families through services, strategic grant-making and community partnerships in 74 counties across South Texas.

A version of this OpEd ran in the San Antonio Express-News.