De Blasio Calls State-Funded UPK a 'Game Changer' for City Kids

By Colby Hamilton on March 31, 2014 4:56pm 

 Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was pleased with the outcome of the state budget providing $300 million for universal pre-K in the city.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was pleased with the outcome of the state budget providing $300 million for universal pre-K in the city.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

FLUSHING — Mayor Bill de Blasio continued to claim victory Monday after Albany lawmakers finalized a state budget that included $300 million per year for the next five years for universal pre-kindergarten — despite seeing other cornerstones of his request denied.

“When it comes to education, there’s many victories here,” said de Blasio, calling the $300 million for UPK “a game changer.” The Mayor made his comments ahead of throwing out the first pitch during Opening Day festivities for the Mets at Citi Field.

“This is one of the things I came to do here as mayor. It is truly historic,” the mayor continued. “We know the power of early childhood education. That idea is about to become a reality.”

De Blasio downplayed his inability to convince state lawmakers, most critically Governor Andrew Cuomo, of the need for a five-year tax that de Blasio argued at times was critical to ensure the city could implement full-day, universal pre-K and expanded after-school programs for middle school students.

“I’m proud to say that Albany heard what the charge to them was: If you’re not going to agree to [the tax] plan, you have to agree to that plan in another form,” de Blasio said. “They didn’t nickel and dime us. They agreed to that plan in another form.”

Part of de Blasio’s argument for the tax increase was the reliability of knowing funding would continue for five years. The mayor said he believed Albany would continue to fund the city’s efforts over that period of time, despite failing to pass a tax to do so.

“If something changes, all options are on the table,” the mayor said about funding. “But right now we feel very good about where things stand.”

De Blasio also said he was optimistic about a “very substantial commitment” of state education money for the city to make good on his promise for expanded after-school programs.

He had requested an additional $240 million to help pay for after-school programs, but while the allotted number is still being worked out, he said, “We feel that we will get our fair share."

De Blasio did not address the victory charter school advocates scored in the state budget announced Saturday, even as pro-charter forces heaped praise on the agreement reached between state legislators and Cuomo.

After the mayor denied three of eight Success Academy charter school co-locations last month, the charter group’s CEO Eva Moskowitz found a champion in Governor Cuomo, who promised to support the privately-run, publically funded schools in the budget process.

As a result, the city is now obligated to find space for charter schools in public facilities, or be forced to cover as much as $40 million in rent for the schools. The city also can not force charters to pay rent, as de Blasio had threatened to do.

The budget agreement also increased state funding for charters, doubling the amount from $250 to $500 per student over the next three years.

"This is a historic moment in public education. Governor Cuomo and Senator Skelos have championed parents and children by boldly moving to protect the future of charter schools,” Moskowitz said in a statement released after the budget deal was announced Saturday. “Coupled with universal pre-K, this legislation will provide unparalleled education options to New York’s families.”

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