MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — During the keynote address at a Columbia University conference on children Monday, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio reiterated his campaign promise to bring universal pre-kindergarten and expanded after-school programs to the city — calling them crucial to students' future.
De Blasio said he’s putting together a task force to help him push the proposals forward — defending his plan to pay for it through a tax increase on New York City residents who make $500,000 a year or more, despite concerns the tax increase could face resistance from Albany lawmakers.
“This is a moment for transformational change but moments like this don’t come along too often, and they have to be grasped when we see them,” de Blasio told the room of education reformers.
“I’m talking about the right of New York City residents to make this decision for themselves, to turn to our fellow New Yorkers who have done very well and ask them to help us a little bit so we can do better by our children,” de Blasio added during a press conference after the keynote address.
The mayor-elect framed his push for the expanded educational opportunities as a critical way to address systemic economic inequality in the city.
“It’s clear we have a persistent educational inequality [and] a persistent economic inequality and they are not separate issues. They are intrinsically linked,” de Blasio said. “I have not offered a small Band-Aid solution: I haven’t offered a pilot program or a boutique concept. I have offered a game-changing investment in early childhood education and after-school. Nothing less will do.”
The mayor-elect also claimed that “the world around us has figured it out and is acting” when it comes to recognizing the link between early educational opportunities and inequality. According to de Blasio, China and India are doubling the number of their children enrolled in early childhood education programs by 2020, while the European Union has set a goal of 95 percent enrollment for its children by that same year.
De Blasio promised that his plans to expand early childhood education opportunities in the city would be “an investment we feel the positive result from for years and decades to come — if we get it right.”
He said part of the push for the tax increases early in his administration was to deliver now on what he said was a mandate from his record-breaking election victory earlier this month.
“[Parents] want this to start in 2014 because our children need this help now and because the future of our city depends on it,” de Blasio said.
He said he expects the task force he’s calling, which he promised would be full of “eminent experts” on education, will develop a plan to, among other things, solve the problem of implementing the rollout of a universal pre-K plan that would be available for the 80,000 city children who would qualify.
“There are space limitation issues that will be necessary to address in some places,” de Blasio said. He added that in areas that lacked space, using pre-existing space in former Catholic schools or empty factory buildings could be options.
The task force is expected to be announced in the coming days.