the path to pre-k

King says statewide pre-K would cost far more than Cuomo budgeted

Commissioner John King testifies at a budget hearing on Tuesday.

ALBANY — Expanding pre-kindergarten access across New York State would cost more in a single year than Gov. Andrew Cuomo has budgeted for five years, state schools chief John King said today.

Testifying during a legislative hearing on Cuomo’s proposed budget, King said providing full-day pre-K for all four-year-olds could cost as much as $1.6 billion a year. His estimate matches an analysis that the independent Citizens Budget Commission released in October and is very different from Cuomo’s proposal, which calls for $1.5 billion in new spending over five years.

King’s estimate provides yet more fodder for the debate over how to fund pre-kindergarten in the state, which has dominated discussions so far in this year’s legislative session. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Cuomo have proposed competing funding strategies and different dollar amounts for the initiative, while advocacy groups have weighed in with their own ideas of what the programs would cost.

King arrived at his figure by doubling what the state currently spends on half-day programs, about $400 million. He then doubled the figure again — from $800 million to $1.6 billion — to account for half of the four-year-olds who aren’t enrolled in any kind of public pre-kindergarten program.

Cuomo pegged the costs at $1.5 billion over five years, including $100 million in the first year. De Blasio’s plan is to use revenue from an income tax hike on the city’s highest earners that he says would bring in $1.7 billion over five years, or $340 million per year.

Brooklyn Assemblyman James Brennan said Cuomo’s proposal “could be a nice down payment” but would fall well short of the resources to allow all 4-year-olds to attend public pre-K programs.

Advocates have said full implementation would cost far more than both plans.

Steven Barnett and Megan Carolan, of the National Institute for Early Education Research, said Cuomo’s proposal would barely cover what it costs to convert half-day seats to full-day seats. Their analysis suggests that full implementation could cost more than $2 billion annually.

And Kate Breslin, president and CEO of the Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, argued that Cuomo should dedicate $225 million per year to expand pre-K, but that the funding shouldn’t end after five years, according to prepared testimony submitted to the committee today. Breslin also wants the state to approve de Blasio’s proposed tax hike so that the state can focus its funds on more cash-strapped districts rather than shipping pre-K funds downstate to New York City.

But funding is only one part of the expansion puzzle, and King said that even if the state provided enough funding for full-day pre-K for all eligible children, an unlikely scenario, most districts wouldn’t be prepared to use the money. (New York City has already begun preparations for a broad expansion this fall, based on de Blasio’s campaign pledges.)

“The capacity isn’t there to deliver all of those seats and deliver all those full-day programs in September,” King said. “So the challenge over the next few weeks, I think, for the governor and you to grapple with is how do you figure out what a reasonable trajectory is to increase spending over the next few years to get to a place where you could have universal full-day access.”

With the focus of his testimony on pre-K funding, King faced considerably less pushback on the State Education Department’s pace of implementation of the Common Core standards than he did last week at a smaller public meeting with lawmakers. The topic is a priority during this year’s legislative session, with several lawmakers saying they want to consider decoupling Common Core-aligned tests from stakes attached to teacher evaluations and student grade promotion.

Just a few lawmakers raised the issue on Tuesday. But Senate Education Committee Chair John Flanagan issued a terse warning to King that he and the Board of Regents should be prepared to address the issue at next month’s meeting.

“We strongly, diplomatically recommend that when the Regents meet in February, whatever your quote-unquote action plan is, we all want to see it and we better see it, and it better have some cogent items in there that we can take and embrace and hopefully work together and get things done,” Flanagan said.

Today’s hearing schedule, which is focused on Cuomo’s proposed budget for education, will include appearances from New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and city teachers union president Michael Mulgrew.


Head of Denver Preschool Program resigning after more than five years

PHOTO: Eric Lutzens/Denver Post
Jennifer Landrum, president and CEO of the Denver Preschool Program

Jennifer Landrum, who oversaw the Denver Preschool Program for the last five and a half years, announced Friday that she’s leaving for personal reasons.

During Landrum’s tenure, Denver voters increased the sales tax that supports the program, allowing it to cover summer tuition costs and serve more children, and extended it through 2026. Landrum also oversaw the redesign of the tuition credit scale, expanded scholarships and awards for teachers and directors to better support quality improvement efforts, and developed a new strategic plan.

Landrum said she was leaving not for a new job but to take care of herself and her family after experiencing “extreme loss.”

“I need time to pause, reflect and recharge,” she wrote in an email to supporters of the program.

The Denver Preschool Program provides tuition subsidies that scale according to family income and preschool quality for students in the year before they enter kindergarten. The largest subsidies go to the poorest families enrolled in the best preschools. The program also supports quality improvement efforts, including for younger students, part of a broader shift in focus in the early childhood sector. It is funded by a voter-approved 0.15 percent sales tax and has become a model for communities around the state.

“Jennifer has served with vision, boldness, and a constant and deep commitment to improving the lives of Denver’s young children and supporting Denver families,” preschool program board chair Chris Watney wrote in an email. “The board, staff, and community are going to miss her in this role. The board of directors firmly supports Jennifer’s decision and wishes her all the best.”

Deputy Director Ellen Braun will serve as the interim director while the board conducts a search process for a new leader this spring.

Decision makers

5 things to know about Austan Goolsbee, the high-powered new addition to Chicago’s school board

PHOTO: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
In 2013, Austan Goolsbee testified before the Congressional Joint Economic Committee on Capitol Hill about the nation's economic recovery

Chicago’s school board is once again complete after outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel chose a University of Chicago economist to fill a long-vacant seat.

Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, will round out the seven-member, mayor-appointed board that sets education policy in the city.

Here are five things to know about Goolsbee:

  1. Like Emanuel, he served in the Obama White House. Goolsbee was as a close adviser to President Barack Obama, eventually becoming chair of his Council of Economic Advisors. The Chicago Teachers Union see this tie as a liability. “Mr. Goolsbee comes into a board responsible for students and their schools being starved of resources for the last eight years by the man who appointed him,” the union said in a statement. “Those same neighborhoods continue to struggle from the consequences of a foreclosure crisis that the administration he served in Washington failed to address.”
  2. He has weighed in on education before. A prolific opinion writer, he has written favorably about the economic arguments for universal prekindergarten, a priority for the outgoing mayor, saying that expanding early childhood education is a bargain over the long term. In a 2015 survey of economists’ positions on public issues, Goolsbee expressed optimism about “value-added” measures that try to isolate the impact of individual teachers on student test scores — though he qualified the approach as having “lots of noise and unobservables.” Expressing uncertainty about vouchers, Goolsbee said he fears that letting parents use public funds to pay for private school tuition could harm public schools, which have fixed costs cannot easily be reduced when students leave them. (A tax-credit version of vouchers launched in Illinois last year but now faces an uncertain future under a new Democratic governor.)
  3. He’ll bring a focus on fiscal policy to a board that oversees a big and uncertain budget. A close economic adviser to President Obama and prolific commenter on matters of economic policy in the national media, he’s joining a board that oversees $8 billion in outstanding debt. Chicago has credited the passage of an equitable funding bill, in 2017, for helping stabilize its finances. But the district’s economic future is uncertain, especially as families continue to leave the city.
  4. His personal public school experience is limited. He attended an elite private high school in the suburbs of Boston where he grew up, and his children attended the University of Chicago’s Lab School both before and after the family’s time in Washington, D.C., he has said in interviews.
  5. He’s got a following, and a sense of humor. For proof, check out his Twitter feed, which has 80,000 followers, and his October appearance on the popular NPR quiz show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” Plus, his official University of Chicago profile lists a special interest in improv comedy. That sets him apart from the rest of the school board members, who tend to keep a low public profile.  

How long Goolsbee serves could depend on what happens after Emanuel leaves office in early 2019. Chicago’s mayor has controlled the city school board since 1995, but Emanuel’s decision not to seek a third term has heightened debate about whether the city’s schools have benefitted.

In 2011 and 2015, voters backed non-binding resolutions that would make the board democratically elected. Now, two of the leading candidates in the mayor’s race, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and state comptroller Susana Mendoza, have said they’d support an elected school board — reducing their own power over education if they become mayor.

How soon a change could happen is unclear, but state lawmakers who would have to sign off on such a change have an ally in Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, who has said he supports the call for an elected school board.

The issue was a point of debate at a Chalkbeat Chicago event this week at Malcolm X College. At the event, titled “Education for All? Chicago’s Next Mayor and the Future of Public Schools,” some panelists voiced concern that elections would be dominated by well-organized factions, such as the teachers union, that would have the ability to outspend other candidates.