ALBANY—Some lawmakers and advocates are questioning whether Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal of $1.5 billion over five years is enough to fund full-day pre-kindergarten statewide, or whether it's a wise expenditure when schools are struggling to educate students in mandatory grades.
The governor announced Tuesday during his annual budget address plans to allocate $100 million for pre-K next fiscal year as part of the phase-in package. The funding will prioritize expanding pre-K programs for high-need students, and charter schools will be eligible.
“Any expansion of pre-K is step in the right direction, but after all the hype and promises, Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal just does not add up,” Billy Easton, executive director of the labor-backed advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education, said in a statement. “Calling this a universal full-day pre-K program is far from accurate; after five years we will be lucky if it covers even 20 percent of the state’s 225,000 four-year-olds.”
Lawmakers with expertise in education issues said they're worried about schools' ability to support their existing students. Cuomo's budget proposal provided about a four-percent increase in education aid, including targeted funding streams for pre-K and other programs. While it would be the third consecutive aid boost for schools, many are still struggling to recover from several years of cuts and a state-mandated property-tax cap.
“We already have schools who are saying that they're having a very difficult time meeting their basic obligations,” Senate Education Committee chair John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, said after the speech. “When we have schools coming to us and saying, 'we are worried about whether or not we can keep kindergarten,' and now you're talking about pre-K, there is a practical reality to what's being advanced.”
Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, a Democrat from the Albany area, said Cuomo's proposal “pits K through 12 against pre-K.”
“We're all excited about pre-K and the efforts to expand pre-K, but you cannot do that on the backs of the K to 12 kids,” said Fahy, who is a former school-board member. “The increase that he is recommending for this year … does not bring the vast majority of school districts out of the hole that they are in.”
In short, districts are going to get stuck with the funding for this program in short order and they can barely fund the mandates they have know.
The Daily News editors warned yesterday that de Blasio had better take Cuomo's proposal because it is a good one with sustainable funding.
But there is nothing sustainable about this funding at all - Cuomo is doling it out just the way he doled out his "competitive grants" proposal last year, and that means it can dry up at any time.
Raising taxes on NYC residents who make more than $500,000 a year to fund pre-K and after school programs is much more sustainable than relying on Cuomo's magical funding formula that may disappear at any time.