De Blasio: Plan to tax the wealthy for pre-K is 'consistent, reliable'

Brooklyn Currents | 1/28/2014 | 0 comments

    Pre-kindergarten students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn (Photo by Yasmeen Khan)

From WNYC News

New York City is prepared to implement full-day, high-quality pre-kindergarten classes for more than 50,000 children as soon as September 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio told Albany lawmakers on Monday, Jan. 27, saying that he needs to be able to tax wealthy residents to do it.

For more than two hours, de Blasio provided details and answered lawmakers' questions on his plan to expand pre-k and after-school programs in New York City and on the request to raise taxes, temporarily, on city residents earning more than $500,000 per year.

The mayor's office released the implementation plan early Monday morning, ahead of the hearing.

The report refines the mayor's vision of a "high-quality" program and addresses issues of classroom space. The city estimated that the pre-k expansion will require about 2,000 new classrooms in public school buildings and community-based organizations, according to the report. The Department of Education has apparently identified close to 4,000 potentially available classrooms.

The report acknowledged that a key issue of providing quality pre-K is recruiting and hiring well-trained teachers with early childhood certification. City officials said the expansion would require hiring approximately 2,000 additional teachers, but that they anticipate an influx of applications given the focus on New York City's expansion efforts. They said that in recent years the city received approximately 2,000 applications from certified teachers for positions within the D.O.E.

"To achieve this goal, to create truly universal, full-day pre-K for every child in New York City who needs it, we need reliable funding, we need consistent funding," de Blasio told lawmakers. He reminded them that the tax increase would be temporary, lasting five years, and that New York City was seeking approval for the right to tax only its own citizens -- a request that came with ample precedent.

Indeed, Senator Diane Savino, who represents parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn, reminded her colleagues that New York City was not the only municipality requesting approval to establish a local funding stream.

"On today's senate active list," said Savino, "we have five local bills that allow localities or counties to either raise a tax, extend a tax or create a new tax credit for a particular purpose just for their county. Because we in the legislature are not supposed to substitute our judgment for the judgment of local governments."

Just as de Blasio received support for his vision and tax plan, skeptics questioned de Blasio's rush to expand pre-k, rather than roll it out gradually; they raised concerns that the tax plan could push out wealthy residents from a state with an already high rate of outmigration; and they worried that, in expanding pre-k, the city would not make necessary adjustments to address overcrowding in several districts.

The mayor's testimony comes nearly a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo released his own funding proposal for expanding pre-kindergarten statewide. Cuomo has offered few details on how many children would be served under his funding proposal or what the cost estimates would be per child.

De Blasio said with his tax plan, the city is prepared to spend about $10,239 per student -- more than twice the amount currently spent per pupil. The total cost for expanding pre-k each year would be $340 million. The mayor said nearly $100 million of those funds would be dedicated to start-up infrastructure and costs required to improve quality system-wide.

New York City currently provides full-day pre-K for about 20,000 students. The mayor's office estimates about 50,000 children either receive no pre-K or are enrolled in half-day programs.


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