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Push for universal pre-K begins

Stephon Johnson | 1/9/2014, 1:02 p.m.

Bill de Blasio’s first week as mayor has been busy, and he wants to make sure state legislators are busy as well.

Standing with union leaders during a news conference at the Union Johnson Early Learning Center on Monday morning, the new mayor urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to pass de Blasio’s plan to tax the wealthiest New Yorkers a little more and use the money to pay for universal pre-K for all New York children.

“We will pass this tax in Albany to guarantee full day pre-K for every child in this city and to guarantee after-school for every middle school child,” said de Blasio during the news conference. “I will repeat it and repeat it and repeat it again until it’s done.”

Officially known as UPKNYC: The Campaign for Universal Pre-K and After-School (a coalition of more than 35 organizations and local business, nonprofit, clergy, and academic leaders pushing for universal pre-K), some of the unions that support the universal pre-K plan include the New York City Central Labor Council, the Working Families Party, the United Federation of Teachers, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 32BJ SEIU, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union and AFSCME District Councils 37 and 1707. They noted that the proposal would help children succeed in life and would also help ensure that tens of thousands of working parents would rest assured that their children were in a safe, educational environment while they were at work.

“We know, without a doubt, that high-quality pre-K and after-school programs provide critical benefits to children and working families,” said Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “Mayor de Blasio is simply asking for the authority to raise the city’s own taxes on the wealthy to pay for this necessary investment in New York City’s future.”

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, chimed in as well. “New York City teachers know firsthand the benefits of pre-K and after-school programs,” he said. “We agree with Mayor de Blasio that now is the time to finally fulfill the promise of all-day pre-K for all of New York City’s children. The best way to do that is with a new source of education revenue—a small tax on the highest earners.”

A recent poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that 68 percent of New Yorkers supported the mayor’s plan to tax the city’s wealthiest residents to fund universal pre-K. Sixty-three percent of New York voters are in favor of raising the income tax to fund early education. Fifty-five percent of suburban voters and 64 percent of upstate New Yorkers support that plan. Another recent poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College found that 72 percent of New York City residents support de Blasio’s plan.

“Universal pre-K is one of the most important single policies for the future of our city,” said George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, in a statement. “Giving children of all economic backgrounds this crucial early boost will not only provide them with greater opportunity, but it will also help address inequality and improve the future economy, public safety and quality of life for all New Yorkers.”

Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, agreed.

“Tens of thousands of New Yorkers wish they had a high-quality, full-day pre-K to send their children to,” said Figueroa in a statement. “This issue is important to our members, and we will be in Albany as often as needed to explain to our elected officials how important it is to let us raise income taxes on New Yorkers who make more than $500,000 to ensure that every New York child has the opportunity to succeed.”

AFSCME District Council 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts said that taxing the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay for universal pre-K would help kickstart children to high achievement in school.

“Quality, truly universal pre-K is not just the right thing to do for our children; it is the smart thing to do for our community. Investing in high-quality pre-K programs has a dramatic, positive effect on students’ long-term academic achievement,” said Roberts.