New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio made the needs of young children and pre-adolescents the centerpiece of his election campaign last fall. A promotional website describes a well framed “plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to fund universal pre-k for every four year old and after school for every middle school student in New York City.”
In New York approving even local tax requests is a state responsibility. Yesterday de Blasio traveled to Albany to ask members of the General Assembly to pass enabling legislation for the modest New York City income tax he seeks to levy on those earning over $500,000 annually.
Pressure from de Blasio has forced New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to address the need for preschool as well, though the details are a little murky because his plan is also paired with the statewide tax cut he anticipates will help him get reelected next fall. According to Bloomberg News, Cuomo says pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds across the state will cost $2.2 billion; Mayor de Blasio says his plan for pre-kindergarten and after school programs for middle schoolers in New York City alone will cost $2.5 billion. He has proclaimed he will not back down on a plan that is urgently needed by New York City’s families.
Asking de Blasio to accept his more modest statewide proposal, Cuomo charges de Blasio can’t possibly get a program set up to provide preschool for 54,000 four-year-olds by September. Cuomo also suggests a more modest start-up and phase-in. Proclaiming such programs should be a right for all children in New York City, the new mayor is unwilling to carve these programs back by making them available only to poor families who clearly demonstrate the greatest need. According to the NY Times, the mayor told lawmakers, “The city’s right to self determination ought to be honored in Albany.”
Bloomberg News reports that deBlasio intends to reach all 4-year-olds by using half of almost 4,000 classrooms identified by officials within public school buildings along with sites in community-based organizations. The mayor predicts an average cost at $10,239 per child, or $340 million annually, including expansion and operational costs, with almost $100 million for start-up and infrastructure costs.
The mayor’s proposed tax would also provide optional after school programs at school, a library, or a community organization for 205,000 middle school students. According to the Hechinger Report which is covering this part of de Blasio’s plan, the number of seats available in such programs has been significantly reduced during the lean budget years since 2008. The mayor promotes this part of his plan by noting the need for good supervision to keep kids out of trouble in the after-school hours and for the kind of enrichment more affluent children take for granted: “After-school programs can help students find something they love to do, whether dance, theater, or sports, providing motivation that extends to the regular academic day.”
Mayor de Blasio says a primary reason he continues to push for a dedicated local funding stream rather than accepting Cuomo’s proposed compromise is to avoid the ups and downs of the state budget and appropriations process. He emphasizes the need for reliable funding. After all, New York is one of 34 states that has not restored public school funding to the 2008, pre-recession level. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, New York spends 5.1 percent less, in inflation adjusted dollars, on public education than it did in 2008.
The new mayor’s determination to defend his program on its merits has kept the eye of the press on the needs of young children, pre-adolescents and families in New York City. His plan to put a program in place without a long phase-in demonstrates deBlasio’s determination to address inequality. Children and families can’t wait and for most there is no way to afford a private program.