De Blasio: Tax wealthy to fund pre-K, after-school programs

In East Harlem on Monday, Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio set out his vision for a new tax on wealthy New Yorkers that would fund comprehensive pre-kindergarten and after school activities — including programs current Mayor Michael Bloomberg has targeted for budget cuts.

As de Blasio toured pre-kindergarden classes at an outpost of the Children’s Aid Society, he spoke to teachers and children about the value of early education.

“Look at what’s happening here,” said de Blasio. “Every one of these children has a better shot at entering school at grade level and succeeding. We need a city where every child has this same opportunity,” he said.

De Blasio is proposing to hike income taxes on New York City households making more than $500,000 to 4.3 percent, up from the current 3.9 percent. He first floated the plan last year.

“The proposals are modest. For families making $1 million, it’s $2,000 more a year in city taxes,” said de Blasio. “It would have a huge, sea-change impact on our school system.”

For the second year running, the Bloomberg administration is seeking budget cuts to early- childhood and after school programs. Last year, Mayor Bloomberg had proposed eliminating a more than 40,000 slots. Some $150 million in funding was ultimately restored with the help of the City Council after advocates launched a campaign. The coalition that led the effort, the Campaign for Children, has vowed to battle again.

“While the Mayor has one last opportunity to stabilize the child care and after-school systems, his budget proposals fail to do this,” the coalition said in a statement in response to the plan for children’s spending in the coming fiscal year, which begins in June. “Not only does the budget fail to maintain the one-year funding restored by the City Council in 2012, it proposes additional cuts to both child care and after-school systems.”

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio greets preschoolers at an East Harlem outpost of the Children’s Aid Society on Monday. Photo: Hollie Slade

De Blasio’s plan would provide all 4-year-olds with pre-kindergarden for the first time in the city’s history, closing a gap of 48,000 children who currently receive part-time pre-kindergarden or none at all. The plan would also fund after-school programs for middle grades.

“The only way you can claim to be putting forward a fundamental change is if you show how you can pay for it,” said de Blasio. “There are ways to pay for things without new taxes, and that usually means a lot of cuts.”

De Blasio’s team said it had also addressed the question of where to put thousands of additional children, budgeting $50 million from the proposed tax increase for building new classrooms and leasing space in the interim.

The current uncertainty surrounding funding for pre-kindergarden has made it difficult for children to get reliable care and provokes job uncertainty for teachers and staff, said Richard Buery, president and CEO of the Children’s Aid Society.

“What’s happening in these neighborhoods is all these issues are being laid at the principal’s door: the health issues, the homeless issues. Principals in these neighborhoods understand the value of having comprehensive services like this,” he said.

Pre-kindergarten gets kids engaged in activities and wanting to complete tasks, said Mariant Castro of her flock of tots — not even 3 years old yet — making Chinese New Year Lanterns. “It makes the transition to kindergarten very smooth,” she said.

Perched at a tiny desk and chair, Bill de Blasio looked even taller than his 6’5” stature.

“If you want to grow up to be as tall as him, you’ve got to eat your vegetables,” said the  teacher.

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