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The time is now for universal pre-K and after-school

Opinion-editorial

FIRST LADY CHIRLANE MCCRAY | 3/20/2014, 1:43 p.m.
Sixty years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision legally ended school segregation, New Yorkers are faced with an ...
Chirlane McCray

Sixty years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision legally ended school segregation, New Yorkers are faced with an uncomfortable truth: African-American young people are still being shortchanged by our education system.

Last year, only 11 percent of African-American students in New York City left high school with the skills they needed to thrive at the next level. As a city, we cannot afford to let another year go by without addressing this crisis.

We also can’t wait until high school to begin providing our children with the tools they need to thrive in the 21st century. In fact, we can’t even wait until kindergarten. Study after study has shown that early childhood education is one of the best investments we can make in our children. Kids who have access to high-quality pre-kindergarten do better in school, work and life. This is true for all children, no matter where they live or how much their parents earn, but the benefits are even greater for our most vulnerable young people.

The numbers on this are truly shocking. At-risk children who don’t have access to high-quality early education are 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent and 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. Unfortunately, too many of our children are going without pre-kindergarten—approximately 50,000 across the five boroughs.

The need is just as great when it comes to after-school programs for middle school students. Adolescence is a crucial period for continuing academic progress, learning a talent and developing self-confidence. It is also a time when peer pressure and a lack of stimulating activities can tempt our children into trouble. Most of us as working parents are all too familiar with the worry that comes between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. if there is no after-school program. We want our young people to be safely and constructively occupied.

The takeaway is clear: We have a moral obligation to provide our children—all of our children—with high-quality early education and after-school programs. My husband, Mayor Bill de Blasio, is committed to fulfilling that obligation. He has a plan to provide universal access to full-day pre-kindergarten and after-school programs during middle school.

Bill and I know from personal experience that these resources are absolutely essential. We were lucky enough to get our children, Dante and Chiara, into good pre-K programs, good schools and good after-school programs.

But it shouldn’t be about luck. High-quality pre-K and after-school aren’t a luxury—they’re a lifeline, especially for parents struggling to balance work and child care. New Yorkers get it. According to a recent New York Times/Siena poll, 72 percent of them support our plan. They are represented by an entire movement, known as UPKNYC, which has come together to support Bill’s plan. It includes teachers, business leaders, labor unions, parents, entertainers and more than 250 clergy members.

After 18 months of hard work by the UPKNYC coalition, victory is within reach. Both the New York Assembly and state Senate have made a public commitment to universal pre-k and after-school. As they enter into final negotiations on the state budget, we must raise our voices as one. It is in the best interests of all New Yorkers to make sure all of our children are getting a truly sound education. Together, we can ensure a brighter future for our children and finally make good on the promise of Brown v. Board of Education.