Bill De Blasio’s Pre-K Proposal Keeps Fueling Political Theatre

By Kristen Meriwether
Kristen Meriwether
Kristen Meriwether
August 29, 2013 Updated: August 30, 2013

NEW YORK—Democratic mayoral hopeful Bill de Blasio’s pre-kindergarten proposal has taken hits all week, particularly from his closest rival, Christine Quinn.

On Tuesday, Quinn, a democratic mayoral candidate and current City Council Speaker, called the plan unrealistic, citing the need for a tax increase, which she said would be impossible to get. Quinn held a press conference with a state senator and two assembly members, who said a tax increase would never pass.

Not to be outdone, de Blasio also brought out two state senators and an assembly member on Thursday to challenge Quinn’s claim. The legislators said they would support the legislation and signed a letter to prove they were serious.

De Blasio contended that the legislature historically passed tax increases, citing Mayor Michael Bloomberg getting one following the terrorist attacks on September 11.

The Aug. 29 press conference is the latest in an ongoing back-and-forth between de Blasio and Quinn over the pre-k plan. 

Much of the conversation has been focused on the tax increase: will it happen? Would they vote on it during an election year? 

But the issue of feasibility has been overlooked. 

According to de Blasio, 70,000 children are of pre-k age. Of those, 20,000 get full day pre-k, 40,000 get half day, and 10,000 get nothing. This means if the tax increase goes through, the city would then need to find space for 10,000 children.

De Blasio said some schools already have seats and filling those would be easiest, as the infrastructure is already there. He said he would also utilize non-profits who already offer pre-k and build upon them.

De Blasio added that there would need for additional infrastructure, likely renovation work on existing building, to create pre-k centers. This would require money from the capital budget. 

“This will come in waves,” de Blasio said. “In some instances we will be able to put seats online immediately. In other cases—if for example you want to create a pre-k center—you need an existing building and you retro-fit it.”

De Blasio said the construction aspect may push getting some of those seats filled into the second year, assuming the tax increase is taken care of in the first year.

De Blasio won supporters with his “tale of two cities” message and by hitting on many of the frustrations faced by New Yorkers today: stop-and-frisk, income inequality, and educational disparity.

“If you are going to be mayor in the biggest city in this country, you had better be bold. You better be strong,” de Blasio said. “You better be willing to pursue an aggressive agenda for change. From my point of view, that is the job description.” 

Kristen Meriwether
Kristen Meriwether