Monday, March 24, 2014

EDU-CAP: The Latest on DeBlasio’s Universal Pre-K Initiative

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De Blasio’s campaign promised to provide universal, full-day, pre-kindergarten programs to NYC by taxing the wealthiest residents. De Blasio presented this proposal in November’s election, which captured 73% of the vote, and has presented this to the state legislature since being elected. However, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been hesitant to agree. Cuomo, who is up for re-election this fall, has built his campaign promising to reduce taxes. Both de Blasio and Cuomo acknowledge the immense benefits of implementing a universal pre-K program but they continue to be at odds in terms of funding.
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In an effort to compromise, Gov. Cuomo proposed a budget plan last January which would fund a universal, full-day pre-K program for the state and still cut taxes. He wants to expand and standardize the quality of pre-k programs across the state, instead of just in New York City.  
Cuomo’s five-year plan allots more than $2.2 billion statewide on pre-K and after school programs; while de Blasio’s would commit $2.5 billion over five years for the same activities just in New York City. De Blasio’s plan would raise taxes on income above $500,000 a year to 4.4 percent from 3.9 percent.  “For the 27,300 taxpayers earning $500,000 to $1 million, the average increase would be $973 a year, according to the Independent Budget Office, a municipal agency.”
Cuomo said, “Once you say you should do pre-K in rich communities and poor communities, upstate and downstate, then you need a mechanism of distribution, which is the state and that’s why state financing makes sense.” And in his opinion, the state is in the best position to provide the classes.
“Those familiar with the governor’s thinking say Mr. Cuomo views the mayor’s plan as an inequitable one: If a prekindergarten program is paid for with tax revenue from the wealthy, then New York City could be at a distinct advantage over smaller and poorer municipalities around the state.”
Amidst claims that having NYC pay for its own early education programs may negatively affect children of the rest of the state, a Times Union op-ed article offered insight to this dilemma. By allowing de Blasio to tax the richest people who live and work in NYC, it can cover pre-K for up to 750,000 children, and open up the state’s budget for the rest of New York school districts.
A Quinnipiac University poll shows that all New York State voters, by a 47-37 percent margin, including 49 - 40 percent among New York City voters, back Cuomo's plan for universal pre-K with no new taxes over de Blasio's plan to fund pre-K with a city income tax hike on high-income families. "Just about everyone in this most liberal of states likes universal pre-kindergarten and they think - overwhelmingly - that kids will learn and that it will help them out of poverty," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "But voters prefer Gov. Andrew Cuomo's no-new-taxes approach to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's tax-the-rich plan to pay for those new classes."
The state’s budget is due for approval by April 1 and the legislative session lasts until June, so there is still time for de Blasio and Cuomo to come to a solution.
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Until then, Mayor de Blasio continues to make his way through NYC schools to support our current pre-K programs. A recent article by the Epoch Times analyzed de Blasio’s education expansion which will not only address the city’s need to improve education, but also the need for new jobs. The mayor’s push for universal pre-K aims to open 11,880 new pre-K seats by September. Given that the staff requirement is one head teacher and one assistant teacher per 20 students, it would translate to 1,188 new jobs. Another 11,760 existing half-day seats are expected to be converted to full-day seats, moving some 1,176 teachers from part-time to full-time jobs. About 10 percent of the pre-K seats would serve special needs students. That would mean hundreds of professionals will be needed, such as speech therapists.

With support for both de Blasio and Cuomo’s plans, it is important to keep in mind the general consensus that implementing quality early education should be in our near future. A total of 78 percent of voters in the Quinnipiac poll say universal pre-K would be "very effective" or "somewhat effective" in improving education for all New York State children. We’ll be sure to follow the status of early education in New York City and New York State while de Blasio and Cuomo come to a resolution.