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Queens Chronicle

Mayor unveils plan for pre-K, as does Cuomo

De Blasio stands by tax increase; Governor suggests other means

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Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Thu Feb 6, 2014.

Mayor de Blasio this week released his plan to implement universal prekindergarten citywide, and called on Albany to give the city the authority to fund it by raising taxes on those making more than $500,000 a year.

But his campaign has been blunted somewhat — or augmented, depending on whom you ask — by Gov. Cuomo’s announcement that he would seek to bring universal pre-K statewide and not use any tax hikes to fund it.

De Blasio released his plan Monday, as he headed to Albany to testify in front of a state Senate committee on the governor’s budget.

The mayor’s pre-K plan would make it free for every child, regardless of income, and would be taught by “high-quality” UPK lead teachers with early childhood certification. De Blasio says classroom ratios will be 18 children to two adults — typically a lead teacher and a teaching assistant. Classes may go up to 20 students with an additional adult in the room. All instruction and professional development would meet state pre-K learning standards — known as New York State Pre-Kindergarten Foundation for the Common Core. There will be additional support for children whose primary language is not English and city Department of Education quality-assurance infrastructure for coaches, evaluation and research, as well as increased family support in high-need areas.

The DOE estimates that pre-K expansion will require approximately 2,000 new classrooms in public schools and community-based settings across the city, each staffed by an early-education certified lead teacher. The department says it has identified nearly 4,000 classrooms potentially available within public school buildings, with additional space likely available in community-based organizations that currently serve the majority of children in pre-K. In recent years, roughly 2,000 early education certified teachers, the number de Blasio says would be needed, have annually applied for positions at the DOE.

De Blasio added he was open to allowing charter schools to have pre-K.

According to his plan, 53,604 students would be eligible for pre-K this September and 73,250 for the 2015-16 school year. The mayor estimates a cost on average of $10,239 per child and $340 million annually, of which $97 million will be dedicated to startup infrastructure and costs required to upgrade program quality in year one. As the number of children enrolled increases, de Blasio says, expansion costs will recede, with $6 million in expansion costs in year two, and the full $340 million in funding dedicated to ongoing operations thereafter.

Cuomo’s plan, unveiled earlier this month as part of a larger report on education in New York State, would bring full pre-K to the entire state. Much of the governor’s plan is similar to de Blasio’s, but the big difference is how it would be paid for. Cuomo said that statewide pre-K can be funded in the existing budget, while de Blasio remained steadfast, noting he was looking just for the authority for the city to implement the tax.

“We’re not asking Albany to raise the state income tax by a single penny to pay for universal pre-K and afterschool programs in New York City,” de Blasio said Monday. “We’re simply asking Albany to allow New York City to tax itself — its wealthiest residents.”

De Blasio would raise the tax rate on incomes over $500,000 from 3.9 to 4.4 percent.

Cuomo plans to fund the program with $1.5 billion over five years: $100 million in the 2014-15 school year followed by at least a $100 million increase in each subsequent school year.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) echoed the mayor’s call, noting that the governor’s plan does not just fund New York City pre-K, but a program across the state.

“The governor’s proposal ramps up too slowly, starting at only $100 million, not all of which of course will go to New York City,” she said in Albany Monday. “But by our estimate, it will cost us as much as $300 million annually to make pre-K truly universal, just in New York City.”

Cuomo’s assertion was challenged by State Education Commissioner John King, who said it would cost much more — $1.6 billion a year — giving some strength to de Blasio and Mark-Viverito’s argument that more money would be needed.

“The current proposal in the state budget falls dramatically short of what we need here in New York City, and underscores exactly why we need a dedicated, reliable source of revenue for these critical programs,” de Blasio said in a statement after King’s remarks.

Cuomo said his plan would phase in pre-K gradually, which will reduce costs at the onset. He has questioned the demand for 50,000 slots that de Blasio said would be in place by September and also doubted teachers can be hired and class space can be set up by then.

De Blasio’s idea has the support of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and, sources say, has more than enough votes in that body to pass. But in the Senate, it’s a different story. Leery of the mayor’s tax plan, several senators at Monday’s hearing suggested that the mayor use a $2.5 billion surplus the city is projected to have to pay for pre-K. De Blasio said he wants to use that money for labor contract negotiations.

State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), a member of the Education Committee, said it is too early for senators to decide which plan they like better.

“We won’t know a more clear picture until we do our budget,” he said. “We’ll have to see.”

Addabbo said his initial reaction was to fund it in the state budget and to fund it in a way that doesn’t include raising taxes.

“Let’s start negotiating on ways to set money aside,” he suggested, adding that there were ways the city could save money and use those savings for pre-K, such as merging the New York City Sheriff’s Office with the City Marshal.

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