Cuomo Gives Support For Pre-K, But No Dollar Figure

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In his State of the State speech on Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo affirmed his support for expanding pre-kindergarten but again declined to offer any details about how to fund a statewide program.

"It's time for New York State to have universal pre-K statewide," he said before moving on to other policy initiatives. The absence of detail was noticeable because New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made universal pre-K his major policy initiative for his first year in office.

De Blasio wants to tax the wealthiest city residents to pay for thousands of full-day pre-K seats and after-school programs for middle school students. But the governor, who is running for re-election this year, was more interested in tax cuts, proposing a $2.2 billion tax relief package for residents and businesses.

De Blasio, who attended the Albany speech, insisted he wasn't disappointed.

"We'd obviously like the support of leaders here in Albany to make sure that we can do that," he said, referring to the legislative approval he needs to raise the city's income taxes. "But the governor, I think, was saying today that he is affirming his belief that this is where we ultimately need to go in the state. We specifically, in New York City, have a way to get it done and we look forward to doing it."

Groups that support de Blasio's plan were not so diplomatic.

"Parents are sick and tired of protesting year after year to stop cuts to pre-k and after-school whenever times get rough," said Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education and a member of de Blasio's post-election transition team. "Our children deserve a dedicated funding stream that cannot be messed with."

Cuomo did propose other specifics related to education, which he called "the best long-term economic development strategy." Teachers who get the highest reading rating in the state's new evaluation system will be eligible for annual bonuses of up to $20,000 through a Teacher Excellence Fund. He said this would motivate teachers and help to "pay them like the professionals they are."

The plan was praised by the groups StudentsFirstNY and Educators 4 Excellence, both of whom differ with the teachers unions' traditional opposition to merit pay.

"Governor Cuomo has positioned New York as a leader in the national education reform movement," said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY.

Cuomo proposed a $2 billion "smart schools" ballot initiative for November to help schools upgrade their technology infrastructure.

"While some schools have sophisticated computers and high-speed Internet access," he said, in others "the most sophisticated piece of electronic equipment is the metal detector that you walk through on the way to the classroom."

The governor proposed giving full scholarships to SUNY for top-performing high school students who pledge to pursue a career in math or science and remain in the state for at least five years.

And citing a federal investigation into alleged anti-Semitic discrimination in Pine Bush, New York,  the governor said school officials with knowledge of discrimination claims must notify the state education department and the police - "or that official is no longer a state official," he said.