New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has hit some roadblocks when promoting his education agenda, but he’s sticking to his guns.
On Tuesday, the mayor and his supporters led a trip up to Albany to continue the push for his universal pre-K plan, which involves taxing New York City citizens making $500,000 or more to fund it.
“The facts are on our side. The people are on our side. Now we have to get Albany on our side,” preached de Blasio to a crowd of about 500 advocates, elected officials and students in the state capital. One of the parents on hand also believed time was on their side, but at the same time, they can’t wait.
“I’m here on behalf of thousands of New York City parents who need pre-K and after-school programs to give their children a shot at success,” said Eric Acheampong, a father of two from St. Albans, Queens, in an emailed statement. “We can’t wait. We need our leaders in Albany to pass New York City’s plan now.”
Under de Blasio’s plan, all 4-year-olds would have access to universal pre-K, with the goal of closing the gap of 53,767 children who receive part-time pre-K or no pre-K at all. It would also serve more than 73,000 4-year-olds at full implementation. In order to fund it, he’s asking for a five-year increase in the New York City income tax on earners over $500,000 from 3.87 percent to 4.41 percent, which would yield approximately $530 million in new revenue each year. However, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo believes he can fund universal pre-K around the state without having to give de Blasio the green light to tax rich New Yorkers as well.
De Blasio has alliances in the New York City Council and the New York State Assembly. A couple of his biggest political teammates cited economic justice, sensible government and education as reasons to tax rich New Yorkers to pay for local kids’ pre-K programs.
“Universal pre-K is an essential tool to fight inequality in New York City, and we’re here in Albany today to stand up for the thousands of children who stand to benefit,” stated New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “For too long, we’ve waited for Albany to act on its pre-K promises, and it’s time to deliver for New Yorkers.”
“Universal pre-K must not become a bargaining chip in future budgets as has happened too often in the past,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “This is more than just our moral and economic imperative; it is the most fundamental way that we can give each and every child in New York a solid start on the road to academic achievement.”
With regards to academic achievement, another rally was held in Albany led by Success Academy Charter School CEO Eva Moskowitz. Moskowitz is fighting against a recent de Blasio maneuver to deny her schools rent-free space. Cuomo joined the festivities and talked about not penalizing success.
“You know, Albany is an industry town, and the industry is government and the government programs,” said Cuomo. “And education is treated like an industry. But what you’re saying today is it’s not an industry, and we have to change that culture. Because education is not about the districts and not about the pensions and not about the unions and not about the lobbyists and not about the PR firms—education is about the students, and the students come first.
“We know that too many public schools are failing. Over 200 failing schools–6 percent grade level for reading, 5 percent grade level for math,” Cuomo continued. “We need new ideas. Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Ironically, de Blasio used the exact same Einstein line during his “tax for universal pre-K” speech in Albany.
Last week, de Blasio killed plans made by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to further expand Success Academy schools into public school spaces. Moskowitz planned on moving new schools into spaces unoccupied in the August Martin High School complex in Jamaica, Queens, and Murry Bergtraum High School in lower Manhattan in time for the 2014-15 school year. Moskowtiz’s plans to expand Success Academy Middle School to P.S. 149 in Harlem were pushed back by the de Blasio administration as well.
Despite preaching about de Blasio’s desire to curtail charter school expansion into public spaces, Moskowtiz was still shocked that the mayor followed through on one of his campaign promises.
Moskowtiz told Capital New York she “frankly thought the rhetoric of the mayor would change once he got into government. Campaigning is generally different, so I didn’t expect to be in this position. And we’re feeling very vulnerable.”
But Moskowitz also remained confident that the governor has her back. “It’s just nice to have friends and supporters,” she told Capital New York. “We have felt kind of alone in this fight.”
Other parents and activists were none too impressed by Cuomo’s participation in the pro-charter school rally. Some even believe his presence was a deflection tactic.
“This is another attempt by the governor to distract attention from the real issues facing New York public schools: fair state funding and expanding universal pre-K for all,” said David Sciarra, director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, in a statement. “We are confident legislators [who] will remain focused on these priorities to advance educational opportunities for all New York public school children.”
“Gov. Cuomo’s appearance is extremely troubling considering he is simultaneously severely underfunding public schools,” added Alliance for Quality Education Executive Director Bill Easton in a statement of his own. “The governor repeatedly says ‘money doesn’t matter’ in education, but when it comes to giving funding to privately run charter schools, it’s all about the money.”
Celia Green, parent leader of New York Communities for Change, went to the playbook used by many detectives in crime dramas: finance.
“Follow the money,” said Green in a statement. “Gov. Cuomo’s re-election campaign war chest has ballooned from the checkbooks of Wall Street billionaires bankrolling corporate charter chains. It is outrageous that Gov. Cuomo rallies for them while being a complete roadblock to adequate public school funding.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, de Blasio and Cuomo had a long, closed-door meeting to discuss universal pre-K funding and the charter school situation. If what happened earlier that day was any indication, stubborn minds and pride will not be swayed on both issues.