De Blasio releases a pre-K rebuttal to Cuomo

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Mayor Bill de Blasio released a detailed plan for implementing universal pre-kindergarten on Monday, which he referenced during morning testimony in Albany, as he tried to convince state legislators of the need for an accompanying tax to support his proposal. 

De Blasio's report comes a week after Governor Andrew Cuomo released a competing plan, proposing a statewide expansion of pre-K programs, but without the underlying tax that was a centerpiece of de Blasio's campaign.

In the report, and his testimony before a joint budget hearing, de Blasio argued that the tax is necessary to guarantee a "dedicated funding stream" directed to pre-K, without having to renegotiate funds every year in the state budget. 

"There are some who say that Albany shouldn't approve our plan because the state government simply cannot raise any taxes right now. That is not the debate," de Blasio said during his testimony, adding, "we're simply asking Albany to allow New York City to tax itself."

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Cuomo has questioned the need for de Blasio's tax, in the wake of his own budget proposal, which pledges to pay for pre-K through existing state funds.

De Blasio's new report, titled "Ready to Launch," argues that the tax is necessary to guarantee the quality of the new program, and to expedite its implementation.

"The limitations to rapid expansion are not personnel or space, or a vision for high quality instruction and professional development — the fundamental challenge is sufficient, sustainable funding," says the report, in its introduction. "Without a high level of multi-year, guaranteed funding, agencies and providers will be unable to secure the quality educators and space necessary to serve every child in New York City."

According to the report, if de Blasio's tax is passed in Albany, the city will have the space and resources to provide pre-K services to 53,604 four-year-olds by this September, and to all 73,250 eligible students by the 2015-2016 school year.

The report found that the mayor's pre-K program will cost an average of $10,239 per child, and will cost $340 million per year, including expansion and operating costs.

The report was prepared by the Office of Management and Budget, the D.O.E., the Administration for Children's Services, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and members of de Blasio's UPK NYC working group

The report says $97 million of the total $340 million will be dedicated to creating new space and upgrading existing space for pre-K classrooms in the first year, with $6 million directed to expansion costs in the program's second year. 

The report also clarified longstanding questions on the viability of implementing universal pre-K across the city, with new details on how the city will provide space for the new pre-K classrooms and students, and guidelines for what constitutes "high-quality" pre-K instruction. 

The city will need an additional 2,000 classrooms to accommodate every eligible four-year-old, despite overcrowding issues in many of the Department of Education's schools. The D.O.E. has identified nearly 4,000 classrooms that could house pre-K programs, with additional space available in community-based organizations. Five hundred C.B.O.'s currently provide pre-K instruction.

The city is also looking into available space in branches of the New York Public Library and city-owned properties owned by the Economic Development Corporation. 

On the question of what qualifies as "high-quality" pre-K programs, the report found that new programs will have classroom ratios of 18 students to two adults, or 20 students to three adults, additional support for English Language Learners, additional training for teachers and coaches, partially over the summer, provided by the D.O.E.'s Office of Early Childhood Development, and Common Core-aligned instruction and curricula. 

Under the mayor's pre-K plan, every four-year-old in the city will be eligible to receive six hours and 20 minutes of daily instruction for 180 days. 

During his testimony, de Blasio called his tax plan for implementing universal pre-K an idea "where the city's right to self-determination, to setting and carrying out our own priorities, ought to be honored in Albany. It's also one that's so vital it must be inviolable."