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Debate Builds Over Funding Pre-K in NY

10:17 AM, Oct 25, 2013   |    comments
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By Ashley Hupfl

Albany Bureau

ALBANY Two studies were released Thursday analyzing whether the state could afford a universal pre-kindergarten program.

New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has proposed a pre-kindergarten program for the city and wants to fund it through $532 million a year in new taxes from city taxpayers earning more than $500,000 a year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said it wants to cut taxes, but said Wednesday he's open to de Blasio's ideas.

"If he becomes the mayor of the city of New York, then he should put together his plans and his programs," Cuomo told reporters. "I invited him to Albany."

The state created a pre-kindergarten program in 1997 that is currently available to 100,000 four year-olds statewide for a half day. Opposing sides argue if it is financially feasible to increase funding and create a universal pre-kindergarten program for the state that is full day.

A proposal released Thursday by the Campaign for Educational Equity Teachers College, Columbia University and the Center for Children's Initiatives contended it would be financially possible to create such a program.

"A study of New York's pre-K program showed that the state's investment in pre-K expansion would be significantly offset by savings to the school system for future remediation, including reduction in special education and grade repetition, and higher student learning productivity," Executive Director of the Center for Children's Initiatives Nancy Kolben said in a statement.

The proposal finds a pre-kindergarten program could be built off the 1997 program, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's pre-kindergarten competitive grant program that includes $25 million a year, and part of the U.S. Department of Education's $10 billion investment for the next 10 years to promote preschool programs nationwide.

The pre-kindergarten program would provide all day pre-kindergarten programs for three year-olds and four year-olds and establishes pre-kindergarten into the state education system, the groups said.

A Cuomo-appointed state Education Reform Commission last year noted that pre-kindergarten programs could narrow the achievement gap and provide long-term benefits to children and taxpayer, the groups said.

The state would need an investment of $225 million in the first year for "high-need" districts, the proposal said.

The state Legislature has long fought over whether to expand pre-kindergarten programs. It's been backed by the Democratic-led Assembly, but thwarted by the Republican-controlled Senate.

A report from the business-backed Citizen's Budget Commission released Thursday found the state and federal aid would not be enough to support a pre-kindergarten program. The group contended that an expanded program would fall on the backs of taxpayers, who already pay among the highest taxes in the nation.

The average taxpayer would see a 3.4 percent increase in school taxes for the program, the report said.

The budget commission's report said 232 school districts do not have universal pre-kindergarten programs, which means less than half of about 230,000 four year-olds in the state can enroll in programs with the $385 million given to the state to fund pre-kindergarten programs. The $25 million in competitive grants through Cuomo's competitive grant program would provide about 2,500 seats. New York has about 700 school districts.

The report found that in the city of Rochester, 1,915 students were enrolled in universal pre-kindergarten last school year, costing about $5,600 per student in state aid. About 64 percent of four-year-olds in the city were in the program.

Rochester and Buffalo have among the highest childhood poverty rates in the state, with about 40 percent of youth living in poverty, according to census data.

In the city of Binghamton, it cost about $4,400 in state aid per child for 300 four-year-old students to attend pre-kindergarten, the report showed. That represented about half of the four year-olds in the city.

In Poughkeepsie, about 30 percent of the four year-olds in the city were enrolled in pre-kindergarten, the report showed, or about 140 students. The state cost was about $5,500 per student, the report said.

The group found in the 2011-2012 school year, the average pre-kindergarten student cost an average of $3,707 each. The report estimates if all four year-olds enrolled in quality pre-kindergarten programs, it would cost about $1.4 billion to $2 billion a year.

Adding three year-olds into the program, as supporters proposed, would double the cost because three year-olds are not currently eligible for state universal pre-kindergarten funds, the study said.

"If done properly and targeted to those who need and can benefit the most, pre-k programs can be worthwhile and have long-term benefits," Carol Kellermann, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, said in a statement. "The challenge is to design any expansion to maximize its cost-effectiveness and potential impact."

 

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