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De Blasio leaves the door open for charter pre-K's

Confronting an issue that brings two of his signature education policies into tension, Mayor Bill de Blasio signaled today that he is at least open to seeing charter schools receive state funding for pre-kindergarten.

At a press conference in Queens this afternoon, de Blasio said he would take a closer look at a pre-K proposal highlighted in a new report from Andrew Cuomo’s education reform commission. The proposal, which came as a surprise to even its advocates, suggests allowing the state’s 233 charter schools to get state funds to operate pre-K programs, which Cuomo has pledged to expand dramatically. Currently, state law prohibits the publicly funded but privately managed schools from getting the state funds.

“I haven’t seen the report that came out from the commission, but we’re going to look at that and see how that might fit with our plan,” de Blasio said today when asked about the pre-K proposal.

It was far from a glowing endorsement. But the comment marked a change from how de Blasio talked about the issue on the campaign trail. In August, he told Chalkbeat that he did not support allowing charter schools to operate state-funded pre-K programs.

De Blasio ran for mayor on a campaign pledge to charge rent to charter schools that use public buildings, which charter advocates say would threaten the schools’ ability to operate. And the mayor has not warmed to charter schools during his first two weeks in office, either.

But advocates said his comments today were promising.

“I’m glad the mayor is reviewing the issue and we hope to engage him in a conversation on this, which we believe will better ensure that his vision of a high-quality pre-K seat, especially for students most in need, is realized in full,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

In New York City, where there are 183 charter schools, de Blasio’s plan involves creating 50,000 full-day prekindergarten seats. But there are several impediments to such an expansion, the commission’s report says. It notes an “inadequate supply of certified teachers and effective providers” as two challenges in particular. The report said giving charter schools access to state funds, which totaled $385 million last year, $220 million of which went to New York City, would provide “untapped potential” to any expansion plans.

The report’s proposal suggests that Cuomo change the law so that charters are authorized to offer prekindergarten programs on their own. Such a move would mean that pre-K students whose families opt to stay in the school for kindergarten would not have to reapply — potentially making the process different from in district schools, where pre-K attendance currently does not guarantee kindergarten admission.

De Blasio has named a working group of early education experts who will submit their own set of recommendations on how to implement pre-K expansion over the next several years.

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