De Blasio spars with guv over how to pay for pre-K

De Blasio spars with guv over how to pay for pre-K
AP Photo/Mike Groll
By Rich Bockmann

Queens public schools met less than a quarter of the demand for pre-kindergarten last year, with more than 26,000 applicants for fewer than 6,000 available seats.

And with the city estimating that in two years more than 70,000 4-year-olds across the five boroughs will line up for a free, full-day pre-K seat, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was beginning to look for places to take the youngsters as he ramped up the push earlier this week to fulfill his signature campaign promise.

“We estimate that 73,250 families are likely to need a full-day pre-K option for their 4-year-old,” a report released by the de Blasio administration Monday said, outlining the mayor’s plan to roll out his early education initiative. “Currently, fewer than 27 percent of these 4-year-olds have access to those services.”

The city provides about 20,000 youngsters with full-day pre-K and nearly 40,000 more in either half-day or part-day programs. Most of the students — about 60 percent — are in programs run by community-based groups, with the rest in public school buildings.

In Queens, there were 26,231 applicants last year for just 5,792 seats available in public schools, with more than 20 applicants for each slot in the borough’s most competitive program at PS 101 in Forest Hills.

The mayor said that in order to meet the demand, the city was starting to look at which community-based organizations have the capacity to expand, and said his administration was working with the city Economic Development Corp. to examine unused city-owned buildings that could host pre-k programs.

The mayor said available space, however, is not the main limitation to expansion, and he headed to Albany Monday to push for his plan to raise taxes on the city’s wealthiest residents to fund pre-K and after-school programs.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week put forward his own plan for Albany to foot the bill for pre-K, saying, “The state will pay for it, and the state will be proud to pay for it.”

“It’s a priority. We believe in children. We believe in pre-K. We believe in education,” he said when announcing the new fiscal year budget.

Cuomo’s move put de Blasio in the position to either take the state funds or continue to push for a local income-tax raise to support early education.

“Universal pre-K and after-school programs must have a dedicated funding stream, a locked box, shielded from what we all know is the inevitable give-and-take of the budgeting process,” de Blasio testified in Albany.

“We’re not asking Albany to raise the state income tax by a single penny to pay for universal pre-K and after-school programs in New York City,” he added. “We’re simply asking Albany to allow New York City to tax itself — its wealthiest residents — those making a half million or more a year.”

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama said the federal government should provide states with the funding for universal pre-K.

“Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every 4-year-old. As a parent as well as a president, I repeat that request tonight,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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