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New York push to fund universal pre-K echoes moves in other states

SchoolsPreschools and Early LearningAndrew CuomoBill de Blasio

NEW YORK -- In case you’ve missed the intense politicking going on in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are locked in a battle over funding for pre-K education (among other things).

Basically, De Blasio wants to tax New Yorkers earning more than $500,000 to create a universal pre-K program in the city’s school districts.  His fellow Democrat Cuomo, balking at the idea of taxing the rich, has said he’ll offer  $1.5 billion for pre-K in the city from existing funds. De Blasio is sticking firm with his idea of a tax increase.

It may seem an abundance of riches for people advocating for early childhood education, but in reality, pre-K programs are popular across the country, even while funding for K-12 education remains flat. In part that is because, as both De Blasio and Cuomo know, pushing for early childhood education plays well with voters.

“We’ve seen a pattern of increasing state funding for early childhood learning, even when we saw flat or declining K-12 spending,” said Mike Griffith, a school finance consultant with the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan group that tracks policy trends. “It’s one of those programs that the general public gets, and the general public tends to have a positive view about.”

In the last year, Minnesota created a pre-K scholarship program for low-income families, Texas and North Dakota expanded funding for pre-K programs and Hawaii and Mississippi established their first voluntary pre-K programs. In all, 40 states provide public funds for pre-K programs, or school programs for 4-year-olds. Thirty states increased appropriations for state-funded preschool in 2013-2014, according to the Education Commission of the States.

On the other hand, kindergarten programs vary vastly between states.  Only 11 states require districts to offer full-day kindergarten, and 34 require districts to offer half-day kindergarten, which can be as short as two hours a day. Five states don’t require districts to offer any kindergarten programs.

The recession has taken a toll on school funding overall and, as a story in the Los Angeles Times noted, many states are not restoring cuts made during lean years. Before the recession, some states were moving from mandating that districts provide half-day kindergarten to requiring full-day kindergarten, but that stopped during the recession, Griffith said. Now, districts short on funds are pushing back when state leaders mention full-day kindergarten, since they simply don’t have the space to expand, he said. Building new facilities is extremely expensive for school districts.

The exception, Griffith said, is Rust Belt and Northeast states, like New York, where population is plummeting in some school districts. They have plenty of space to offer full-day kindergarten and are doing so to keep their student numbers up. If you want full-day kindergarten, it seems, perhaps you should move to Buffalo. 

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlanaSemuels

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SchoolsPreschools and Early LearningAndrew CuomoBill de Blasio
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