State Sen. Diane Savino accused mayoral candidate and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio today of not understanding the legal issues behind providing universal pre-kindergarten to New York City students.
De Blasio has proposed taxing households that make more than $500,000 to fund full-day pre-K for all New York City children.
The senator, who spoke on a conference call set up by Bill Thompson’s campaign team, said creating universal pre-K in the city is not a matter of getting more money, but rather changing laws in Albany.
“Either Bill [de Blasio] doesn’t know how we fund universal pre-K or he’s just pandering. Because the fact is we don’t need to spend more money on this program,” she said.
Quoting the department’s 2011 legislative agenda, Savino noted that New York City had to send $31 million back to Albany because the funds can only be used toward half-day preschool, and working parents in the city require full-day programs.
Because of cuts to the state’s pre-K budget, the department returned $2.1 million last year, department officials said. They said the city has spent about $50 million of its funds annually on pre-K on average in recent years and has received about $225 million annually from the state in the last two years.
De Blasio’s campaign shot back and said de Blasio would work with Albany so that New York City can use half-day pre-K dollars for full day programs.
“But even if Albany agreed, it would come nowhere near providing enough funding to make full-day pre-K available to every child who needs it,” said campaign spokesman Dan Levitan.
According to de Blasio, it would cost an additional $341 million to fund full day pre-K for all city children.
But Savino disagreed.
“We have enough money,” she said. “What we don’t have is flexibility in the state’s regulations about how we spend the money we already get.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose mayoral campaign said she has long spoken about the issue, recently told Capital New York she would lobby the state to allow the city to use half-day pre-K funds for full-day pre-K, as the Bloomberg administration has done. “That will get us a step closer. And then we will work to get the rest of the resources,” she said.
Comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu also brought up this issue in 2011 when his office released an audit finding that the Department of Education had failed to use all its universal pre-K funds. The audit acknowledged that the forfeiture was the result of the state’s rules.
Levitan added, “Bill Thompson has refused to call for asking the wealthy to pay anything more so that every child can get the head start they deserve.” Thompson talked about expanding pre-kindergarten when he released his education platform in May but has not provided any more specific details about how he would fund and execute his plan. He has vowed not to raise taxes on New Yorkers.