Cuomo and the upstate view of pre-K

cuomo-and-upstate-view-pre-k
Andrew Cuomo. (Governor's Office)
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ALBANY—Like the snow, the first statement arrived late Wednesday night: Yonkers mayor Mike Spano, a Democrat, felt New York City's plan to push ahead with its own plan to pay for pre-kindergarten was inequitable.

His statement echoed a new argument made by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday, and was soon repeated in statements (some of which used the same phrases) from leaders in Middletown, Ulster County, Niagara Falls, Newburgh and members of the State Senate.

“As members of the New York State Senate, we are deeply offended by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent assertion that the children in New York City are more deserving and more in need of early childhood education than the 4 and 5-year-olds in the communities we represent,” three Republican state senators—John Flanagan, Joe Robach and John DeFrancisco—said in a statement. "We have a responsibility to provide every student in this state with the same opportunity to learn and to succeed, not just the students in New York City.”

It was a drumbeat of support for Cuomo—whose case also benefited from poll results this week showing his pre-K plan favored by more voters than de Blasio's—for sure.

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A Cuomo spokesman denied there was any coordination.

(As David Paterson once said, “Drumbeats remind me of orchestras, and orchestras remind me of orchestration.”)

Capital contacted several upstate officials about the competing funding plans. The reactions to de Blasio's city-only plan were mixed, but proactive offense was not immediately forthcoming.

“I like pre-K throughout the state, of course, because it's going to help our community,” said Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick, a Democrat. “But honestly, I think this is a good example of the fight the cities are having over flexibility. What we want, and what I think is going to make cities successful, is to be given the tools from the state to set our own priorities.”

Coxsackie-Athens school superintendent Randall Squier said he didn't see Cuomo and de Blasio's plans as mutually exclusive.

“If they get it, fine. I don't live down there,” he said. “In some ways, maybe the compromise is fine: New York City, you fund your pre-K through your income tax, and the state doesn't send any pre-K aid to New York City. Send it just to the districts in the rest of the state. To me, that would be a compromise. If you want to tax your high-wage earners, fine; but you're going to be on your own.”

Larry Spring, superintendent of the Schenectady School District, said existing state funding formulas were already unequal—a long-held belief of many upstate districts.

“If New York City goes forward with their proposal, in some sense, it can create inequity. If they're going to be able to beef up their pre-K program more than other places, that's possible,” Spring said. “But there are much hotter fires going than pre-K. Across the state, there are school districts that are cutting Kindergarten, so to fund pre-K and not fund K-12, that just is nonsensical.”

During a conference call on Thursday, Cuomo said he “understood” the feelings of officials who were concerned about inequality.

“Any policy that would seek to divide the state, I would oppose. Any statement that would seek to differentiate treatment for children of such a vital service, such as pre-K, I would oppose,” he said. “You're not going to pass a piece of legislation saying my children should go first. That's not the way we govern, that's not the way we operate, and it's not going to be successful.”

Later, de Blasio's press office responded by emailing reporters a statement from Kate Breslin, president of the Schuyler Center for Analysis & Advocacy:

"In a perfect world, New York State would fund Pre-K through grade 12 fully and fairly and low-income districts would not be left behind.

"But we don't live in that world yet. Elected officials outside of New York City should be some of the strongest supporters of New York City's universal pre-K and after school proposal.

"The Executive Budget offers an inadequate amount for pre-K statewide and nothing for after school. If New York City is allowed to tax itself for its own pre-K and after school programs, it frees up more money for other local governments."