By Angelica Rivera and Brian Trzeciak
We don’t know many Buffalonians who concern themselves with politics and policy in New York City, but when it comes to funding prekindergarten, suddenly there is intense statewide interest. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has sought permission from Albany to raise taxes in New York City to fund prekindergarten and after-school programs there. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo prefers his own plan that would take steps toward covering all of the state’s children. But the best plan for Buffalo would be the combination of both plans – an idea Cuomo has opposed.
It is laudable that both the governor and the mayor of the largest city in the state are committed to the concept of high-quality early education. Study after study has shown how important these programs can be.
One of us, the mother of two 4-year-old boys in the Buffalo pre-K program, has personal experience with this. Right now, they come home from pre-K excited to sing the new song they learned or pick out their favorite book to be read to them. They are learning to interact socially with their peers, regulate emotions and explore their creativity. They are curious and the love of learning is being instilled in them.
We need to fully fund pre-K programs like these.
The State Legislature decided back in 1997 to fund universal pre-K. The problem is that there has never been a reliable source of funding.
To that end, there’s compelling reason for parents and educators in Buffalo to support de Blasio’s approach, in addition to Cuomo’s. If Albany permits New York City to enact its own plan, 75,000 children will be covered off the bat, without the rest of the state having to pay for it. That, in turn, would leave more money to create pre-K spots for kids elsewhere in New York. In fact, a study released last week by the Alliance for Quality Education and others estimated that Erie County would see 2½ times more pre-K funding if New York City’s plan were to pass.
That’s important, because the loosely outlined plan that Cuomo has discussed falls far short of what’s needed. The governor hasn’t specified where the money would come from to implement his pre-K plan, and even the state’s education commissioner has said that funding early education programs across the state would cost much, much more than the governor’s estimate.
In that light, allowing New York City to go forward with its own plan is doubly appealing: it leaves more money for statewide pre-K – meaning more pre-K right here in Buffalo and the Niagara region – and it covers New York City’s youngest learners at the same time. That’s a win, for once, for all areas of the state.
Angelica Rivera is the parent of two students who attend School 54. Brian Trzeciak is lead organizer at Citizen Action of New York.