Why Pre-K Disagreement Matters to WNY How New York Resolves Debate over All-Day Pre-K Has Long-Term Ramifications for All ; How New York Resolves Debate over All-Day Pre-K Has Long-Term Ramifications for All
Why pre-K disagreement matters to WNY
ALBANY - It's hardly a secret that upstate residents have long felt slighted by the state, especially when compared with New York City.
So when the mayor of New York proposes to expand a public education program for his city to be paid solely by some of its residents, an upstate resident might ask: Why should I care?
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other critics of Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan think upstaters should care because it could carve out an important early education learning tool - all-day, pre-kindergarten programs - solely for New York City.
In addition, Albany is a town of long memories, and if de Blasio's plan - in the form of a home rule request - is denied, that memory could make it harder for upstate communities to get their own home rule requests passed in a State Legislature dominated by New York City lawmakers.
De Blasio says he is willing to alienate some of his city's wealthiest residents with a special income tax surcharge targeting them to pay for the pre-K, but Cuomo is saying no.
"If it's a statewide pre-K program, the state should pay," he said.
Cuomo sees have and have-not consequences.
"Maybe we should let the rich districts have their own (pre-K program) and the poor districts finance their own? No," Cuomo said, as he pushes his plan for a statewide pre-K funded by the state.
Even if Cuomo's plan makes it through the Legislature, however, it may have little impact on Western New York school districts, where leaders already are struggling with funding their kindergarten through 12th-grade programs and are concerned about the long-term costs and sustainability of pre-K.
Some New York City lawmakers say no one is standing in the way of a dual system: letting New York City fund its program and allowing the state to fund the rest of the pre-K programs. However, critics say that idea could wreak havoc with the state's education system, which is already criticized as a system that favors rich over poor districts.
$2 billion bond proposed
Cuomo says the statewide pre-K program will cost the state $1.5 billion. He has proposed a $2 billion bond for voters to consider this fall, some unknown portion of which could go for schools to create more space for pre-K classrooms.
But, some have wondered: Does it make sense for all New York taxpayers to fund a program that could end up sending a large chunk of the resources to New York City, which is willing to raise its own revenues?
Moreover, while Cuomo insists his plan won't lead to higher state taxes, the money will have to come from somewhere, and he has no legal authority to lock in where future governors or lawmakers can go to pay for a pre-K program.
The de Blasio administration has said Cuomo's proposed statewide funding level is inadequate to fully cover New York City's pre-K plan. It also has suggested localities have a mistrust that the state will make good on promises to cover the costs - especially in times of fiscal duress.
The new mayor, who has talked often of the growing inequalities between rich and poor in his city and makes no bones about his core liberal beliefs, wants to hike the city's own income tax rate from 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent on people making over $500,000 a year. That will raise about $500 million annually to pay for both pre-K and after-school programs, he said.
The debate hit high gear the past few days, and on Thursday reporters began receiving a series of seemingly coordinated emails from local officials around the state, including Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, criticizing the de Blasio plan.
Reducing the pressure
In an interview, Dyster amended his written comments to acknowledge that de Blasio did not say New York City children are more "deserving'' of a pre-K program. But Dyster said a lot of progressive mayors, like himself, are looking to de Blasio to push certain causes, including pre-K. …