ALBANY – School districts outside New York City would be major beneficiaries of efforts to expand prekindergarten offerings if lawmakers go along with both – and not just one or the other – of the funding plans floated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the city’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio.
That’s the assessment from a group of education funding advocacy groups, whose benefactors include teachers unions, in a new report being released today urging that Cuomo and de Blasio both get their way.
For just Erie County, the groups estimate Cuomo’s prekindergarten plan could be worth $26 million over the next five years, compared to $63 million that could be available in state funds if both the de Blasio and Cuomo plans are adopted.
“Despite the fact that the governor has said his plan is more equitable, the reality is the best plan is to do the combination of the mayor’s plan and the governor’s plan. That would be more equitable because more students would be served, and more high-needs students in particular,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, one of the five groups releasing the report.
The education funding groups base their claims on the premise that the city can fund its own program while Cuomo’s plan for a statewide pre-K program could spend its proposed pot of money on all other districts in New York and not have it siphoned off, as it would be, by the large New York City school district.
The idea of a dual pre-K plan also was suggested by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday. “We have not ruled out the mayor’s plan if need be or the governor’s plan, or some combination thereof,” Silver told reporters at the Capitol.
The new Democratic mayor has proposed a boost in the city’s personal income tax rate to raise more than $500 million annually for pre-K and after-school programs; nearly $400 million of the proceeds would go to expand all-day, pre-K programs that would begin with an initial 54,000 nursery-school age children this fall.
But Cuomo, backed by some upstate government officials, says de Blasio’s plan falls short because it funds only a New York City program and ignores districts upstate and the New York City suburbs that have their own pre-K needs. As an alternative, Cuomo proposed a statewide solution to start with $100 million this year and $1.5 billion over the next five years funded solely by the state.
De Blasio, though, says the Cuomo plan is inadequate and that he wants to fund a program paid for by city residents that will provide a stable funding stream.
The idea of a combination of the Cuomo and de Blasio plans is promoted in a new report by several organizations, including the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and the Alliance for Quality Education, two groups that are gathering evidence to be used in a possible lawsuit against the state over what they call inadequate state aid for New York’s 700 school districts. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity won a major lawsuit against the state in 2006 over what the state’s high court said was a failure by New York to provide enough funding for a quality education; the funding levels that came out of that court decision were, however, never met by the state.
The groups made their estimates for pre-K funding outside New York City on the premise that the city pays its own way and that Cuomo’s extra funding for the program is based on the formula by which the state funds existing pre-K programs.
The report provides funding estimates for all counties in New York. Niagara County schools, the groups say, would get $952,000 under Cuomo’s plan in the first year compared to $2.9 million if New York City funded its own program and Cuomo’s proposed money pot was spread around to all other districts. Cattaraugus County would get $2.3 million under the dual plan compared to $632,000 under the Cuomo-only plan.
Cuomo has not released a district-by-district funding estimate for his pre-K plan, so the groups said they based their numbers on a number of existing and assumed funding projections.
Tuesday on the Fox Business Network, Cuomo said he is worried that raising taxes on wealthy people will drive them from New York. The governor two years ago extended a statewide tax surcharge on millionaires. “If you charge a family and individual too much in taxes, they will say I can’t afford to stay here,” Cuomo said.