San Antonio Report Reframes COPS/Metro Ballot Initiative as Opportunity to Celebrate Labor Day in November
About five years ago, COPS/Metro sought and won “living wage” minimum pay for City workers, resulting in raises for about 20 percent of the civilian workforce. They won similar measures from Bexar County, and some school districts followed suit.
Now two measures on the Nov. 3 ballot offer San Antonians the opportunity to again help lower-rung workers. Both involve a one-eighth-cent sales tax that for 20 years has provided funding to buy development rights to protect sensitive lands over the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.
The first ballot measure would transfer those funds to provide about $154 million over the next four years for a job training program projected to boost the incomes of up to 40,000 workers. That’s an aggressive goal, but what gives it credibility is that its approach is based on Project Quest, a jobs training program designed by COPS/Metro 28 years ago.
Interestingly, it was COPS/Metro and their sister organizations around the state that persuaded the Legislature back in 2001 to authorize local governments to spend money on job training and early childhood education. That same law, the Texas Better Jobs Act, permitted San Antonio voters to approve Pre-K 4 SA in November 2012. The highly successful preschool program is up for renewal on the ballot.
[Photo Credit: Scott Ball, San Antonio Report]
Election Day Ballot Will Let You Celebrate Labor Day on November 3rd, San Antonio Report [pdf]
After hearing stories from Iowans facing the stress of unemployment amidst a shifting economic environment, AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) began researching how to help workers get back to work in living wage jobs.
"Losing a job is a trauma for workers and their families," said AMOS leader Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bell Jr. "We know that workers need not only training to be able to access higher-wage work, but also support for that trauma, childcare access and assistance to help them complete a training program and be ready to re-enter the workforce."
Since May, AMOS leaders had been meeting with business, government, and community stakeholders to formulate a job training proposal to address the coronavirus crisis. In July, 100 AMOS leaders convened a Workforce Summit calling on Governor Reynolds to invest in intensively supported job training which was built on a model pioneered by the West / Southwest IAF. This initiative will ensure workers have the training and support they need to get back to work, strengthening their families and better able to support the communities they live in.
COPS/Metro Among Heavy Hitters Called By Mayor to Win Voter Approval of Coronavirus Economic Recovery Plan
Less than two months before early voting begins, Mayor Ron Nirenberg has called in several heavy hitters to steer his campaign to use a sales tax to help residents get back to work after they lost their jobs to the coronavirus.
The campaign, known as “Build SA,” faces the daunting task of figuring out how to break through a noisy November election to convince San Antonio voters to put more than $150 million toward a still loosely defined proposal that city officials estimate would help 40,000 residents get higher-paying jobs....
The mayor has assembled a trio of co-chairs to lead the effort: Blakely Fernandez, a partner at law firm Bracewell and former Alamo Colleges trustee; Linda Chavez-Thompson, former executive vice president of the national AFL-CIO and a former VIA Metropolitan Transit board member; and Sonia Rodriguez, a leader of the local grassroots organization COPS/Metro.
[Photo Credit: KENS5]
Voters will be asked to approve a 1/8-cent sales tax to fund job training and college degrees for San Antonians who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The money also would help participants pay rent and other living expenses while they complete those programs.
The sales tax revenue would be dedicated to those purposes for four years....
“Today, San Antonians need this investment more than ever,” Virginia Mata, a leader of the grassroots coalition COPS/Metro told council members Thursday. “It is not only the right thing to do but also the right investment. The seeds that you plant today will have a lasting effect and will help San Antonians rise from the shadows to the light.”
[Photo Credit: Billy Calzada, San Antonio Express-News]
'We Need Action Now': Sales Tax Proposal for San Antonio Economic Recovery Now in Voters' Hands, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
COPS/Metro Calls for Sustained Investment in Workforce Development as Path to Post-Covid Economic Improvement
Since the onset of the pandemic, COPS/Metro with our allies, Project QUEST and the Alamo Colleges, have led the way to ensure San Antonians whose lives have been shattered by the economic free fall can re-enter the workforce equipped with new skills and good salaries. This month, the workforce development program supported by CARES and the city of San Antonio began accepting applicants whose jobs went on hiatus or completely disappeared. These applicants are supported with critical wraparound services that include a stipend, child care, transportation, tutoring and counseling, like the highly successful services provided by Project QUEST, which is recognized nationally for its high graduation and job placement rates. The Alamo Colleges will play a vital role in this program, using Project QUEST’s model along with partnerships that will strengthen and expand its capacity to serve displaced workers.
To be successful, the new Education and Workforce Program will need to adhere to a set of standards like the CARES recovery program, whose primary focus is meeting the needs of the participants. Addressing those needs must be the focal point of decision-making, not business as usual. This means providing quality wraparound services, including a 1-to-100 ratio of counselors to participants, ensuring job placement upon program completion and connecting graduates with jobs that pay a living wage with benefits. And the overall policy direction and management of the program must reside within city government, along with participants, educators and community members who can offer insight into program implementation.
Approximately 160,000 workers have been displaced due to the pandemic. The lion’s share of the funding should be directed toward them. While the majority of tax dollars will be dedicated to workforce development, funds could also go to participants with some college credits who want to complete their degrees. If the higher education institutions adequately address their needs, it is possible a fair number of college graduates could result from a small investment into this pathway. However, using public dollars to offer the same programs and services that previously failed these same students will not do. This is not a scholarship program; it is a jobs program.
[Photo Credit: Billy Calzada/San Antonio Express-News]
Improving Economy of City, Lives Of its Residents in Grasp, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
COPS/Metro, one of the city's most powerful community organizing groups, vigorously lobbied the council to use the federal dollars to help workers who lost jobs during the pandemic to receive retraining. Under the plan, the city would partner with Workforce Solutions Alamo and Project Quest, allowing residents to access weekly stipends of $450 and services such as childcare.
Council voted 10-1 to approve the plan, saying the training opportunities will allow the city to reshape is low-wage economy and residents to access work with better earnings, benefits and job security.
Debate Over S.A. Stimulus Money a Battle Between Have-Nots, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
Last week, the New York Times highlighted a workforce training program in San Antonio called Project QUEST that helps hundreds of people every year move out of poverty and into sustainable employment. A recent analysis of the program was particularly encouraging. Nine years after entering training, participants are still experiencing high rates of employment and earning over $5,000 more annually than a similar group that didn’t participate in the program. Such outcomes are rare in workforce development programs.
The Times article came out just as AEI’s Vocation, Career, and Work research team began discussions with Capital IDEA in Austin, Texas, an organization that uses a model similar to Project QUEST. Capital IDEA has been working with low-income families in Austin for more than 20 years to move workers from low-wage to middle-skill jobs. In 2018, program graduates earned an average starting wage of $22 per hour. A previous analysis of the program has found sustained wage gains at least four years after program completion.
[Photo Credit: RealClear Policy]
In Austin, a Public/Private Partnership for Workforce Success, RealClear Policy
The economic odds facing Avigail Rodriguez a few years ago couldn’t have been much worse. An undocumented immigrant and a single mother, she lived in a cramped apartment in a tough neighborhood in San Antonio and earned just $9 an hour working as a nurse’s assistant.
Today, Ms. Rodriguez, 26, owns her own home in a safer area, earns nearly three times as much as she did before and has secured legal residency. The key to her turnaround was a training program called Project Quest, whose own ability to beat the odds is no less striking than that of Ms. Rodriguez.Project Quest has succeeded where many similar retraining efforts have failed, taking workers lacking in skills and successfully positioning them for jobs where they can earn double or triple what they did previously.
“This really gives employers a chance to find workers they wouldn’t otherwise have considered,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University. “At the same time, it provides opportunities to a rather disadvantaged group of workers, both younger and older.”
Project Quest was born 27 years ago in a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio where poverty rates are above the citywide average. After the closing of a Levi Strauss factory there, community groups [i.e. COPS/Metro, see comment at right] created Project Quest as a way of preparing workers for better-paying, more highly skilled jobs that were less vulnerable but still in demand.
[Photo Credit: Joanna Kulesza, New York Times]
Job Training Can Save Lives. See How San Antonio Does It., New York Times [pdf]
Business columnist Chris Tomlinson of the Houston Chronicle argues that Project QUEST is the most effective workforce development program in the nation. Economist Mark Elliot, CEO of the Economic Mobility Corp., had this to say:
“To see earning differences this large and for this long is unprecedented in the workforce development field.”
In photo above, COPS/Metro leader Sr. Consuelo Tovar fights for local funding of Project QUEST. [Photo Credit: Kin Man Hui, San Antonio Express-News] In bottom photos, trainees learn to cradle a newborn and conduct PERRLA evaluations. [Photo Credit: Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News]
San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled into Middle Class, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Nine Year Gains: Project QUEST's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility Corporation [pdf]
Hundreds of Texas IAF leaders bused into the Capitol from El Paso, the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and West Texas, joining Central Texas Interfaith counterparts to call on state legislators to increase spending on adult and K-12 education.
After a morning briefing on school finance, the Texas Innovative Career Education (ACE) program and other issues -- including Medicaid, payday lending, and infrastructure in the colonias -- leaders were recognized with a House resolution in support of the ACE program.
300 leaders then convened on the South steps of the Capitol where they were joined by state legislators who pledged to continue working for investments in people. The following spoke in support of the ACE fund and increased public school funding: Central Texas Representatives Vikki Goodwin, John Bucy, Erin Zwiener, Gina Hinojosa and James Talarico; El Paso area representatives Joe Moody, Mary Gonzalez and Art Fierro; North Texas legislators Victoria Neave, Terry Meza, Julie Johnson, John Turner and Ana Ramos; and from San Antonio, Phillip Cortez.
In photo above, the Rev. Dr. Rhenel Johnson from TMO (Houston) kicks off the press conference with leaders from San Antonio (COPS/Metro), Dallas Area Interfaith, Central Texas / Austin Interfaith, West Texas Organizing Strategy (WTOS), El Paso's Border Interfaith & EPISO, and the Rio Grande Valley (Valley Interfaith). After the press conference, leaders broke out into smaller delegations to meet with legislators representing their geographic regions.
Organizations Call On State Legislators to Support Adult Education, Univision 62 [Spanish video]