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Boston’s Mayor-elect Marty Walsh
Photo: Strategies for Children

Two new mayors will take the oath of office in both Boston and New York. So expect to see these men — Marty Walsh and Bill de Blasio — change the face of education in their cities, a news story in Education Week advises.

“Both cities’ school systems are under mayoral control. Both new mayors will select new executives to run the schools,” the article says. “And both cities still have enormous education challenges to tackle. Large achievement gaps—including in graduation rates—stubbornly persist between black and Latino students and their white and Asian peers.”

As Mayor Thomas Menino leaves office and Walsh steps in, look for “more subtle changes to the 57,000-student school system, which has generally experienced less upheaval in its school improvement efforts than other major urban districts,” the Education Week article says.

“In addition to hiring a new superintendent for the Boston schools, Mr. Walsh will be charged with overseeing the most sweeping change to the district’s student-assignment process since the city ended widespread busing for school desegregation more than 20 years ago,” the article adds.

Education Week predicts that policy changes are likely to be “most dramatic in New York,” citing de Blasio’s plans to throw out a number of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts, including an A to F grading system for schools.

Early Education

Both mayors-elect support early education, but they have different plans for paying preschool’s bills.

Walsh has “focused on his proposal to expand families’ access to prekindergarten programs,” Education Week says.

Walsh says on his campaign website, “Too few Boston children have access to quality public early childhood programs that provide standards-based learning and a licensed teacher. BPS has roughly 3,000 seats for four-year olds, which serve less than half of the four-year olds living in Boston.”

Walsh’s campaign promise: “As Mayor, I will double the number of full-day K-1 seats for four-year olds in four years.”

How will Walsh pay for this expansion? He has three answers:

– By working with the commonwealth’s congressional delegation to pass President Obama’s proposal to fund a national expansion of preschool.

– By analyzing and tracking “potential cost savings that benefit from early childhood programs.” Walsh adds, “I recognize that redirecting potential cost savings is a long-term strategy. Nevertheless, redirecting funds is a way of sustaining early childhood programs over time.”

– And by engaging “businesses and non-profits to create public/private partnerships that contribute to initiating and sustaining early childhood programs.”

In New York, de Blasio has generated controversy with his early education plan. As his campaign website says: “In front of some of New York’s wealthiest residents, Bill de Blasio called for an increase in taxes for New Yorkers earning $500,000 or more to dramatically expand after-school programs for all middle school students and to create truly universal pre-K programs.”

A majority of New Yorkers support de Blasio’s tax proposal, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. However, media reports suggest that raising taxes will face stiff resistance from other elected officials. New York’s legislature and governor would have to approve de Blasio’s plan.

The Future

After they are sworn in, Mayor Walsh and Mayor de Blasio will need to take stock of existing preschool programs and build on this base. To affirm Massachusetts’ commitment to a mixed delivery system of public and private providers, Walsh should partner with Boston’s diverse early education and care programs to deliver on the promise of high-quality pre-K.

Of course even the best campaign promises can be trampled by the daily realities of governing. But Walsh and de Blasio have an advantage: They are part of a growing team of mayors, state legislators, governors, and members of Congress who are all pointing to research that says high-quality preschool programs can help children thrive in school and beyond. Given this momentum, these two new, big-city mayors might make real progress on providing high-quality early education and care for more of their cities’ kids.