Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday asked state lawmakers in Albany to look not at the blank check for hundreds of millions that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has offered to fund New York City’s universal prekindergarten, but at the billions the state already owes the city in education funding.
The mayor testified in front of a joint committee advocating for his signature plan, which would raise taxes on rich New Yorkers in order to fund pre-K and after-school programs in the city.
De Blasio, who has been adamant about executing his own pre-K plan, reinforced his plea for a dedicated funding stream by pointing out that the state has short-funded the city on education by as much $7.7 billion since 2009.
The mayor’s trip is the latest development in a face-off with Cuomo, who also outlined a plan to fund pre-K statewide from the state budget and even offered de Blasio a blank check to roll out the program in the city.
The mayor outlined a plan that would provide pre-K to all 73,250 eligible children and after-school programs for middle-schoolers in the city by 2016 and went on to answer questions from lawmakers for nearly three hours.
In his testimony de Blasio said that the universal pre-K funding has to be “predictable and consistent,” and pointed out that since 2009 the state failed to fund the city’s education system under a court order that resulted from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.
Rather than accepting hundreds of millions that Cuomo offered for the pre-K plan, de Blasio asked for a “significant down payment” on billions that the state should pay as ordered by the judge.
“In the next school year alone, New York City public school students will be shortchanged some $2.7 billion in state education funds,” de Blasio said.
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) is a nonprofit that formed in 1993 and filed a lawsuit that year saying that New York state was underfunding New York City on education, thus violating its residents’ “constitutional right to the opportunity for a sound basic education.”
In 2006, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the CFE and in 2007 the state Legislature passed an Education Budget and Reform Act promising to increase education aid to the city by more than $6 billion over the next four years.
However, after two years and an increase of $2.3 billion, the plan was frozen due to the recession and the funding was cut back in the following years. In 2012, the Board of Regents stated the total funding gap reached over $7.7 billion, according to the CFE website.
“Albany does not seem inclined to go back to the CFE agreement,” said Doug Turetsky, communications director at the city’s Independent Budget Office.
He believes this is a part of the reason why de Blasio may not trust Cuomo’s promises.
“The state has not met the commitment it made,” Turetsky said. “The mayor is saying if we have a dedicated revenue stream created in the city, then we know the money’s there.”