Facing an influx of new charter schools to the area and coping with state-level budget cuts, Bexar County's 15 school districts have united behind a campaign to emphasize the benefits of traditional public schools.
The "We Go Public" effort, which will feature social media outreach along with radio and TV ads, will focus on what it calls the "core strengths" of local public schools, including the experienced teaching corps, a variety of extracurricular activities, diversity in learning experiences and the sense of community the schools provide. The initiative is co-chaired by three of San Antonio’s business leaders: USAA CEO Josue Robles, Toyota Manufacturing President Chris Nielsen, and CST Brands CEO Kim Bowers.
“The concept of educating all people regardless of race, class or socioeconomic status is the engine that has made America a great nation and an economic power,” Robles said in a statement. “Society has asked public schools to carry a heavier load, to cut back their budgets, to pass all the tests, to feed the hungry, to minister to the sick, to be all things to all people. And you know what? They are doing a pretty amazing job.”
In 2011, state lawmakers cut the public education budget by roughly $5.4 billion. They restored about two-thirds of that funding during the last legislative session, but public school advocates have argued the funding is still insufficient to cover the costs of educating the state's almost 5 million students.
"We want to talk about the things that we believe that public schools do well," said Brian Woods, the superintendent of Northside Independent School District, which is San Antonio’s largest. "There has been a lot of advertising statewide around what other versions of schooling do well, and we realized that we really weren't doing it that much."
The campaign comes a year into a $30 million push led by some of the city's wealthiest philanthropic foundations to bring six new charter school operators to the area, which has highlighted the poor performance of San Antonio districts. It also happens as Texas implements a new law that allows for the expansion of charter schools in the state.
The school districts involved have contributed about $138,000 to kick off the campaign, said spokeswoman Melissa Ludwig. She said those funds, which they hope to supplement with private donations, would primarily go to buying TV airtime.