Albany to foot pre-K bill

By Rich Bockmann

Parents have until the end of the month to enroll their children in the first phase of the city’s pre-kindergarten expansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced at a Ridgewood school Wednesday.

“The bottom line now is that we need to get the word to parents that it’s time to sign up,” he said during a news conference at PS 239 after the state passed a budget sending $300 million to the city for pre-K.

Students at PS 239, where only a half-day program is offered, “have only had the advantage of a few hours a day in a pre-K setting,” the mayor said. “Now every one of the seats will become full-day seats and that’s going to allow so much more for the children of this school.”

Parents have until April 23 to apply for a seat in one of the public school programs that will be available in September. The city will announce plans later for further phases, de Blasio said, which will include programs at community-based organizations and charter schools.

Leaders of Queens parents groups stood by the mayor earlier this week as he lauded what he called a “historic” victory — albeit not the one he was hoping for — following a deal in Albany over the weekend to provide funding for an expansion of pre-kindergarten.

“Now every child has access to high-quality, full-day pre-K. That half-day thing just doesn’t quite work when you’re a full-time working parent,” Isaac Carmigniani, president of Community Education Council 30 in western Queens, said at a news conference at Citi Field Monday morning. “It’s an investment in our future, and this is a day that was a long time in coming.”

The centerpiece of de Blasio’s mayoral campaign was a proposal to fund an expansion of nearly 40,000 pre-K seats in two years through an increase on the income tax paid by the city’s wealthiest earners.

That proposal hit a roadblock in Albany when Gov. Andrew Cuomo came out in opposition to the tax hike, and when lawmakers reached an agreement on the budget over the weekend, it was the governor’s plan that prevailed with $300 million headed toward the city.

That figure fell about $40 million short of what City Hall wanted for pre-K and did not include $190 million de Blasio sought for an expansion of after-school programs for middle schoolers.

But despite the political setback early on in his administration, the mayor was looking on the bright side.

“This is one of the things that I came here to do as mayor, and now when that vote is taken, it will be a reality. It is truly historic,” he said.

Some had proposed the idea that Cuomo’s opposition to the tax increase was political posturing as he gets ready to run for re-election and de Blasio said returning to the issue in the future is not off the table.

“Look, I’m going to speak from a hopeful perspective, because this is such a clear and substantial victory,” he said. “I am going to speak from the perspective that we believe, if we all keep our eye on the ball, that this full commitment will be met over five years.

“If that’s the case, we’ve achieved the mission. Something changes — all options are on the table,” the mayor added. “But right now we feel very good about where we stand and the trajectory that we’re on.”

It is now up to the city Department of Education to approve programs and staff in order to have the expanded offerings available in September.

Alicia Hyndman, president of the Community Education Council for District 29 in southeast Queens, said a lot of parents will sleep easier now.

“Because as a single parent, a parent in southeast Queens and a parent leader for so many years, one of the dilemmas always is childcare,” she said. “What do parents do? And this — I have to tell you that filling out the application at 5 o’clock in the morning when it came online with the DOE was frustrating when you see the choices and how the limits are and which programs are full-day and which programs are half-day.”

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

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