ALBANY—Andrew Cuomo has all but won the battle with Mayor Bill de Blasio over how to pay for pre-kindergarten in New York, but experts say the governor's plan won't provide enough money to serve every child in the state.
Researchers estimate it will run anywhere from $10,000 to $13,000 per student to provide quality full-day pre-K in New York, accounting for the cost of certified teachers, small class sizes and a curriculum that's aligned to Common Core standards. Cuomo's proposal appears to budget much less.
The governor's push for statewide pre-K has been heavy on promises and light on details, but he offered a concrete number in his budget address last month (before later offering a blank check to districts that could launch a pre-K program immediately).
His offer of a five-year $1.5 billion investment starts with an allocation of $100 million in next fiscal year's budget that grows each year until it reaches $500 million. Add that to the roughly $400 million the state already spends on half-day pre-K for some students, and you get a total of $900 million—an amount that experts say couldn't possibly provide quality full-day programing to all of the state's four-year-olds.
At full implementation, $900 million would serve about 90,000 students at the $10,000 funding level. The plan would serve fewer than 70,000 students at the $13,000 level. There are about 230,000 four-year-olds in New York, according to the state Education Department.
But even if only 80 percent of eligible four-year-olds enroll—184,000 kids—the funding level would be less than $5,000 per student.
Cuomo has beaten de Blasio on the pre-K issue - I think he'll manage to keep de Blasio from getting a tax hike on those making $500,000 or more in NYC to pay for universal pre-K in the city.
But if the experts Bakeman talked to are right and Cuomo's plan underserves students around the state, de Blasio can ultimately come back around and say 'See, I told you Cuomo's universal pre-K financing was unsustainable - not give me my tax hike so we can have a real universal pre-K program here in NYC as opposed to the underfunded plan Cuomo pushed."
And that seems to be what is going to happen. Again, Bakeman:
Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said it would cost at least $10,000 per student in New York, and launching a universal program for what Cuomo has proposed would be impossible. The state would either have to offer half-day pre-K universally or offer full-day programming for only some students, he said.
“New York will ... continue to fall far short of full enrollment and erode the amount of funding that's put behind every child,” Barnett said. “That tension of wanting to serve more kids and not wanting to spend enough money will inevitably result in undercutting the funding and not reaching the goal of making this available to all kids. It's just not realistic.”
In short, Cuomo has won major political battles over the universal pre-K, but if the program is a mess the way it sounds like it is going to be, he still may lose the overall war.
Cuomo's going to look to hawk his universal pre-K program when he runs for president, especially the part about not having to raise taxes to fund it, and if the program itself doesn't do what Cuomo says it does, if it underfunds universal pre-K and falls short of full enrollment and quality, then he's got a problem on the 2016 presidential trail.
We may see Cuomo's arrogance and need to win every political battle come back to bite him yet.