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More hop onboard de Blasio’s pre-K bandwagon

2/6/2014, 2:33 a.m.
The chorus of those in favor of universal pre-K for all of New York City’s children has grown significantly.
Bill de Blasio Photo by Bill Moore

The chorus of those in favor of universal pre-K for all of New York City’s children has grown significantly.

Fourteen local and national nonprofit, advocacy and labor groups recently joined “UPKNYC,” the campaign to pass New York City’s tax plan to fund universal pre-K and expanded after-school programs.

Some of the organizations joining the campaign include the New York Civil Liberties Union; the Hispanic Federation; La Fuente; the Alliance for a Greater New York; the New York Immigration Coalition; the Associated Musicians of Greater New York, Local 802; and the Arab American Association of New York.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that universal pre-K would benefit all New Yorkers.

“Universal pre-K is a win-win,” said Lieberman. “It will help level the educational playing field for our most vulnerable children and help their parents—especially the moms, who typically shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility for child care—to hold the jobs they need to provide for their families.”

In recent weeks, almost 60 organizations, businesses and nonprofits, as well as clergy, labor and academic leaders, launched “UPKNYC: The Campaign for Universal Pre-K and After-School.” The plan involves increasing taxes on those making $500,000 or more and using the extra revenue to pay for pre-K for all New Yorkers and after-school programs for middle school students who need them.

José Calderón, president of the Hispanic Federation, was one of the people to jump on board.

“Hispanic Federation supports the city’s plan to ask high-income earners to pay a modest tax surcharge to fund high-quality, full-day pre-K and after-school programs,” said Calderón in a statement. “For our Latino and English-language learner youth, these resources can and must ensure the creation of top bilingual programs that will guarantee Latino student success and build a well-educated, globally competitive workforce.”

In a recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, 63 percent of New York state voters are in favor of raising the income tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers to fund early education for all children. That includes 68 percent of New York City voters, 55 percent of voters in the suburbs and 64 percent of those who live in upstate New York.

Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said that her two daughters were unable to attend pre-K due to waiting lists and welcomes universal pre-K.

“I have witnessed firsthand the difference pre-K can make in a child’s academic performance and believe it provides the necessary first steps for our children to succeed and our communities to excel,” said Sarsour in a statement.

While universal pre-K has a significant consensus among state Democrats, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio differ on how to make it happen. Cuomo has said numerous times that he has a plan that wouldn’t include raising taxes on more economically well-off New Yorkers, but de Blasio hasn’t stopped advocating for pre-K funds based on increased taxes.

“There are some who say that Albany shouldn’t approve our plan because the state government simply cannot raise any taxes right now,” said de Blasio during a speech 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. We’re simply asking Albany to allow New York City to tax itself.”

The mayor added another individual to his education ranks this week when he announced the appointment of Richard Buery as the city’s deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives. Buery will direct many of the administration’s signature projects, including providing free, full-day pre-K to every New York City child and launching new community schools that support families in low-income neighborhoods. Buery, a native of East New York, was pleased to join the ranks of the de Blasio administration.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Buery said. “It’s been my mission in life to help families work their way up the economic ladder. No agency, no community group can do that alone. It takes sustained and far-reaching coordination to drive that kind of change.”

It’s change that de Blasio wants to happen sooner rather than later.