New York voters will soon be asked to sign off on a $2 billion bond act to build facilities for a new statewide prekindergarten program, as well as pay for technology upgrades in the state’s school districts.
The proposed bond act, which will appear on the November ballot, was one of the education highlights of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget presentation Tuesday.
Also significant was a plan to spend $1.5 billion over the next five years to make pre-K available in any school district willing to implement a program. New York would be the fourth state in the country to have a universal pre-K program.
“We don’t want to just do pre-K; we want to do it great, and we will,” Cuomo said.
News of the pre-K program was welcomed by educators in Western New York, including Denise A. Dunbar, principal at Sidway Elementary School on Grand Island.
Sidway currently offers two sessions of half-day pre-K programs to about 36 students. But the need outweighs the school’s capacity. Sidway typically has anywhere from 100 to 125 families vying to get in.
The district is open to expanding the program, but that would require a bigger building, more teachers and extra support staff, all things that get a boost in the governor’s budget.
“The advantage of pre-K is that it teaches youngsters literacy skills, math skills and social and emotional skills,” Dunbar said. “But most importantly, it gets kids used to what school is all about. You set the students up for success.”
Cuomo’s spending plan for schools underscores the education priorities the governor has laid out since taking office. Along with the extra money for pre-K, the proposed budget also allocates funding for after-school programs and teacher incentives.
Noticeably missing, however, is any mention of penalties for school districts – including Buffalo – that consistently fail to meet state academic standards. Cuomo came out tough last year, calling for a “death penalty” for schools and districts that fail to show improvement. But he has failed to lay out any specific measures during his State of the State address two weeks ago or during Tuesday’s budget presentation.
Instead, Cuomo wants to put more money into programs aimed at getting students, particularly those in high needs areas, more time in school.
Cuomo did acknowledge that there are issues with the implementation of the controversial Common Core standards, and called on the State Legislature to make changes. But there are no direct budget implications to that program.
In addition to the pre-K program, his budget proposal includes spending $720 million over the next five years for after-school programs, with the hope that additional time for academic and enrichment activities will boost students’ academic performance.
The proposal also includes money to recruit and incentivize high-quality teachers, including a $20 million fund that would allow teachers deemed highly qualified by the state’s evaluation system to claim a bonus of up to $20,000.