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De Blasio Takes Universal Pre-K Plan to Albany

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In a move timed to coincide with his trip to Albany, Mayor Bill de Blasio released a white paper intended to show the city is well-equipped to handle a rapid expansion of universal pre-K. Bobby Cuza filed the following report.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says when it comes to universal pre-kindergarten, time is of the essence.

“We’re confident that we can get this up and running,” de Blasio said.

Right now, according to city figures, about 19,000 kids receive full-day pre-K, less than 27 percent of those eligible. De Blasio says he can boost that number to almost 54,000 by this fall, and by the following school year, expand free, full-day pre-K to all 73,000 eligible kids.

Those were among the details in a 14-page report released Monday, which de Blasio took to Albany to help make his case to sometimes skeptical upstate lawmakers.

“My concern simply revolves around kind of biting off more than we can chew right away,” said Syracuse Assemblyman William Magnarelli.

Under the city’s plan, all 4-year-olds would receive six hours, 20 minutes of instruction, 180 days a year.

Classrooms would have 18 children to two adults. The plan would require about 2,000 new classrooms. The administration say the space is there.

“We have identified up to 4,000 available classrooms right now in school buildings all over the city. We know some of those will work well for this task, some may not work as well, but we have a substantial pool to begin with,” said de Blasio.

The report projects all this will cost the city about $340 million a year, or a little more than $10,000 per child. That’s significantly higher than the current per-child cost here in the city, but less than universal pre-K programs in places like Connecticut and New Jersey.

Testifying before the joint Fiscal Committees on Monday, de Blasio said to pay for the expansion, he'd like to raise taxes on those making more than $500,000 a year.

The money would fund what he said is the $340 million needed to provide every 4-year-old in the city with full day pre-kindergarten.

De Blasio said that the program needs a steady source of funding.

"The city's right to self-determination, to setting and carrying out our own priorities, should be honored in Albany," de Blasio said. "Universal pre-k and after-school programs must have a dedicated funding stream, a lock box, shielded from what we all know is the inevitable give and take of the budgeting process."

Pre-K experts like Michael Rebell say while the plan is lacking in some important details, overall it shows the administration is serious.

“I’m sure they’re going to run into roadblocks and problems. You do in any implementation process. But what I read is that there’s such commitment here, they’re going to move heaven and earth to get it done,” said Michael Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity.

The report also outlines teacher training and notes pay levels will be sufficient to attract and retain early-childhood teachers. If, that is, de Blasio gets all the funding he’s looking for.

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