In his State of the State address on Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is set to announce a proposal for statewide universal Pre-K, Capital New York reports after speaking with sources briefed on the speech. A spokesman for the governor declined to comment to the publication.
The proposal is said to fund preschool within the state’s $140 billion budget and one source said he would call for $250 million in funding. The state currently spends about $400 million on Pre-K but only serves less than half of its four-year-olds, and many of those are in half-day programs.
Cuomo’s potential push for universal Pre-K comes after newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a promise to create a universal preschool program for the city’s children, paid for with a tax on those who make more than $500,000, who represent one-half of one percent of the city’s earners. The plan is based partially on the fact that all taxpayers would see a big return for an investment in preschool, netting about $7 for every dollar spent on high-quality programs. State Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D), who supports de Blasio’s plan, estimates that the city would see a $3.7 billion return. There is also very little evidence that a higher tax on these earners, which would mean that someone who makes $1 million a year would pay about $2,100 more, would push the wealthy to flee the city.
New York’s Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Klein, who is the Senate co-majority leader, have both supported de Blasio’s plan. Thirty-eight New York State lawmakers also signed onto a letter in December urging Congress to prioritize Pre-K funding, including Klein’s Republican co-leader Sen. Dean Skelos and other Republicans.
New York is the latest state among a handful that are looking at putting together universal preschool programs. Lawmakers in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Illinois, and West Virginia have worked on such plans. Others, such as South Carolina and Michigan, have advanced legislation to create more access for low-income students. At the federal level, President Obama has proposed a universal preschool program funded with $75 billion over the next decade.
Across the country, about half of three-year-olds and less than 70 percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in preschool programs, ranking the U.S. at 24th and 26th in the globe, respectively. It also ranks at number 21 for how much it spends on programs, devoting 0.4 percent of GDP. But there is plenty of evidence that increasing that investment could have a huge benefit for the children who attend and for the economy overall.
Capital New York is now reporting that Gov. Cuomo will not in fact bring up creating a universal preschool program for New York in his State of the State address this week. While he told the publication, “There’s no doubt that pre-K is the way to go, and it should be accelerated,” he said that “It’s a two-step process… First decide what you’re going to do, then decide how you’re going to do it. We are on step one.”
Cuomo mentioned universal preschool in his address but only in passing, saying that it is “time to fulfill the state’s goal” of making all-day Pre-K accessible to all children.