Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

New York has joined the growing list of cities that are looking for ways to expand preschool programs. The city’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, raised the issue during his campaign. And now, the New York Times editorial board has weighed in – noting both the considerable challenges and inherent wisdom of de Blasio’s vision.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to offer full-day preschool to every New York City 4-year-old hasn’t yet rounded the corner from election slogan to classroom reality. But it’s moving: a public-relations campaign on Friday started blitzing the city with leaflets and emails to drum up support for the tax to pay for it,” the Times wrote in its editorial, which ran on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

The Times recognizes that New York City will need more space for preschool classes and suggests that to find this space the city might form partnerships with charter schools. The editorial also cites the need for skilled preschool teachers and for “classes small enough to be effective, and tightly integrate the program with kindergarten through third grade so that 4-year-olds do not lose their momentum.”

To pay for the expansion of preschool — and for a separate after school program for older children — de Blasio wants to raise taxes on city residents who earn $500,000 or more.

A tax increase, however, would require the approval of state officials. And on Tuesday, in a budget address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made a counter-proposal. He called for setting aside “$1.5 billion over five years to pay for an expansion of prekindergarten classes across New York State,” according to this Times article. “Mr. Cuomo said that it was his job to expand prekindergarten education and that he would do so without raising taxes on the city’s highest earners.”

“The state will pay for it, and the state will be proud to pay for it,” the Times quoted Cuomo as saying, adding, “But Mr. de Blasio said he would continue his push for a tax increase on the wealthy, arguing that a dedicated city revenue stream was the only way to provide a reliable source of money for citywide prekindergarten and after-school programs.”

Playing referee, the Times ran a follow-up editorial saying, “Leave it to New York’s top two political alpha males: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are locked in a contest over something they both agree on.”

The Times adds: “They are both right in purely pedagogical terms: expanding education for toddlers could make a real difference for thousands of New York’s disadvantaged children, no matter how it’s paid for. The question is whether they can come up with a way to turn this worthy goal into reality.”

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) suggests funding both plans. NIEER points to the unmet need that exists for serving preschool age children across New York. In a blog post from Tuesday, January 21, NIEER writes:

“It is heartening to see two such high-profile elected leaders competing over who has the ‘best’ pre-K plan. Particularly as UPK in New York has been underfunded for well over a decade, it is our sincere hope that Cuomo and de Blasio can work together on both state- and city-level initiatives to create a quality, stable program and ensure that all of New York’s children are off to the bright start they deserve. From our perspective, the best option is likely to be implementing both plans–and together they can transform New York into a model for Governors and Mayors throughout the nation who seek to provide the best 21st Century education and brightest future for all young children.”