Universal Pre-K is overdue

In his State of the State speech last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo echoed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for universal pre-K programs. However, the two leaders have different visions for achieving this.

The City has a clear plan to provide universal pre-K education for all 3 and 4 year olds and after-school programs for high school students. De Blasio has proposed raising taxes for New Yorkers earning $500,000 or more annually. The increase would be about 4%, or nearly $3 per day, and would raise $530 million.

Cuomo on the other hand did not provide details. The governor, who is running for re-election this year, wants to brand himself as a tax-cutter.

Something has to budge. Thousands of children are receiving an inadequate pre-K education or none at all. This is an unacceptable situation considering that Pre-K programs have been scientifically proven to increase cognition, raise scores and help develop essential skills. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, universal pre-K could help close the achievement gap by about 40%. The Ounce of Prevention Fund has stated that without these programs, children are 25% more likely to become high school dropouts, 50% more likely to be put in special education and 70% more likely to be arrested for violent crimes.

In New York City, 3 and 4 year olds Latinos are currently the ones who benefit the least from pre-K programs: 50% of them aren’t properly registered, compared with 29% of whites and 40% of African Americans.

What Cuomo has suggested so far is a phase-in approach towards pre-k and piloting these programs for the first year. This falls short of what our kids need and deserve—a long term commitment from a city and state that are way behind schedule.

On Tuesday, he should present a bold, clear and immediate budget that includes universal pre-K. And if it means raising taxes, it’s a worthy sacrifice for the future workers and entrepreneurs the Empire State will need to count on.