New York puts universal pre-K on front burner

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Local and state lawmakers in New York wasted no time in putting universal prekindergarten at the top of the state's 2014 legislative agenda.

In New York City, newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio made good on a campaign promise when, on Jan. 6, he unveiled a plan to fund universal, full-day pre-K for the city's 4-year-olds, along with after-school programs for middle school students. To pay for the expansion, de Blasio is calling for a 0.5 percent increase in city income taxes on those earning more than $500,000 a year.

The mayor announced the plan at an early learning center in East Harlem, where he was joined by leaders from all the city's major labor unions. "This is labor saying we are here to help all the families of New York City," said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who is also an AFT vice president.

Two days later, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his State of the State address to legislators in Albany and also vowed to secure full-day prekindergarten for families in the Empire State. The address offered no specifics, however, on how the pre-K expansion would be paid for at a time when the governor is also seeking $2 billion in tax cuts.

The New York State United Teachers has long been a strong proponent of universal prekindergarten. NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi, who is also an AFT vice president, called the governor's early childhood proposal "encouraging," but he questioned how New York could sustain investments in pre-K, professional development, technology, and public colleges and universities—questions only made thornier by the state's still-healing economy and a massive new tax-cut plan on the table. Should those tax cuts become law, "It is difficult to reconcile how the education programs will be paid for, not to mention sustained," Iannuzzi said.

NYSUT is awaiting details of the governor's executive budget proposal, due later this month.

[Mike Rose, UFT, NYSUT, New York Times]

January 10, 2014