The attention paid to universal pre-kindergarten in New York has reached a fevered pitch. While there is consensus on the need to provide high-quality, full-day services for four year olds there are real differences on how much capacity we need and how we might pay for it.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has kept his campaign promise to support universal pre-k by proposing a dedicated, temporary increase on personal income taxes for the wealthiest New Yorkers. The city administration has also put forth a detailed implementation plan. The only thing missing to support this plan is funding. And that is where Albany comes in.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also come out in strong support of universal pre-k -- statewide. His executive budget for fiscal year 2014-15 offers a $100 million down payment and proposes to increase state support to an annual allocation of $500 million by year five.
Yet,the level of funding proposed by the governor will not achieve the goal of universal pre-k. This sum falls short of the annual estimates produced by both the Citizens Budget Commission and the state’s own Department of Education, which identify a need of more than $1.4 billion annually to fully fund the program on a statewide scale.
The need to fully fund these programs is immediate, and it is pressing. In New York City alone, an alarming 30 percent of children live in poverty, and in some neighborhoods the child poverty rate exceeds 60 percent. That is unacceptable. We know that early childhood education has incredibly valuable payoffs in the form of greater academic success and helps to avert outcomes that are tragic and so costly to society.
Children grow up fast, and every day we delay is a day we waste.
New York City has advanced a bold and practical plan, one that fully funds programs that will set our children and our city on a path to success. Albany should allow the city to raise its local tax, as the Assembly majority and Senate Democrats have said they would. But, if ultimately state leaders won't take this step, we urge them to find alternative resources in the state budget that are real, reliable, and reach universality for all four year olds.
Make no mistake; we have an incredible opportunity to leverage the support for full-day universal pre-k. Reaching agreement on capacity and funding would be a win-win for Cuomo, de Blasio, and the entire state legislature. More importantly, it would be a historic investment in New York’s children.