It's tremendously encouraging that officials across New York State are debating how to move forward with universal prekindergarten. Research shows that high-quality pre-K is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve learning and graduation rates, especially for high-needs kids. Yet today, fewer than half of New York's 4-year-olds have access to public pre-K.
With such a pressing need for more high-quality pre-K slots, it's perhaps not surprising that a substantial disagreement has cropped up about who should implement a universal program -- and how it would be funded.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has suggested a statewide plan, but hasn't laid out the details. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has put forward his own plan to increase taxes on the city's highest earners to pay for his proposed pre-K program.
Some Long Island leaders have opposed de Blasio's plan, and support the Cuomo plan, on the grounds that all of our state's kids should get the benefits of early education, no matter where they live. But when it comes to looking out for the best interests of young people statewide, it actually helps to support the New York City plan.
While it's laudable that the governor has made early education a priority, he hasn't put forward a budget that explains in detail how he'd pay for it. Outside experts and even state Education Commissioner John King have said a true statewide pre-K program would cost far more than what the governor said he would provide for in his budget. King has estimated the cost of a statewide program at $1.6 billion a year rather than the governor's projection of $300 million a year. Added to that are the governor's proposals to lower taxes for banks and high-end earners. Simply put, it's hard to divine where the money would come from.
And that has long been a problem: State lawmakers passed legislation calling for universal pre-K in 1997, but it's never happened because there has never been a reliable funding source.
Cuomo has promised to expand pre-K each of the next five years -- but he hasn't promised nearly enough funding to make the program truly universal. In fact, Cuomo's plan would again pit New York City against the suburban and upstate districts in a battle for precious resources. This isn't the way to address this critical policy issue.
Enter the New York City plan. De Blasio ran and won -- handily -- on a pledge to implement universal pre-K in the city through a modest tax increase on city residents earning $500,000 or more a year. Now it's up to lawmakers in Albany to enable the mayor to proceed with his plan. There's no question that they should allow it. Letting New York City fund its own pre-K programs means New York State won't have to pay for them. And that means more money for more pre-K programs in the rest of the state.
On the other hand, if Albany blocks the de Blasio plan, much less money will have to be stretched much further. How does that make sense?
It's not about the Cuomo plan vs. the de Blasio plan; the best solution for the entire state is a combination of both.
The de Blasio plan will do right by families in New York City and the entire state. The proposal may not have originated in the governor's office, but it's the smartest move for the state.
Michael P. Hogan is associate dean of the College of Education, Information and Technology at Long Island University.