UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, just days before the Nov. 5 mayoral election.
Earlier today, we pointed out that some Democrats who supported one of Bill de Blasio's rivals during the mayoral primary were coming around to a campaign pledge they once panned.
Another of those critics of Blasio's expanded pre-kindergarten access plan—which calls for an income tax hike on wealthy New Yorkers—was American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who endorsed Bill Thompson in the primary. In August, Weingarten held a conference call with reporters specifically to criticize the plan.
“We need a mayor in the city of New York who will take this idea and actually get it done and not base it on a tax that may never materialize,” Weingarten said then, calling Thompson “a doer” and describing de Blasio as more of an idealist.
But when asked today if she remained pessimistic about the plan, which requires state approval, Weingarten said she had been mistaken.
“Sometimes you’re wrong, as I was during the campaign, when I suggested that Bill de Blasio couldn’t gain support in Albany for his early childhood education initiatives," Weingarten said in a statement.
On Organization Day, Indiana legislative leaders annually gather for a mostly ceremonial start to the upcoming legislative session.
Will 2014 be another big year for new education laws? That's hard to say.
As lawmakers began to pitch ideas today for the 2014 legislative session, opinions diverged on how much could be accomplished on hot education issues like the Common Core, preschool funding and discord on the Indiana State Board of Education.
Senate Education Committee chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, doesn't think education will be a big focus this time.
"I don't have any priorities for education for session 2014," he said. "I think we passed some pretty significant bills the past three years and I think it's time to take a rest."
But across the statehouse, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said improving early childhood education and addressing the “skills gap" that he said leaves high school graduates ill-prepared for work and college, were two of his four top priorities for 2014.
He also hinted the legislature could wade into a dispute among state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, Gov. Mike Pence and the Indiana State Board of Education over who directs education policymaking.
"Our state's constitution clearly gives that task to the elected legislative bodies in this chamber and the senate," Bosma said.
The legislature officially began the new session Tuesday with its annual "organization day," a mostly ceremonial event. Lawmakers begin their work in earnest when they next meet in early January.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott read to a group of 4-year-olds at the Bank Street Head Start center in November 2011.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten fueled mayoral candidate Bill Thompson's attacks on Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's plan to fund universal pre-kindergarten, calling Thompson a "doer" and de Blasio an idealist.
"We need a mayor in the city of New York who will take this idea and actually get it done and not base it on a tax that may never materialize," Weingarten said during a call with reporters that the Thompson campaign arranged.
Since last week, Thompson and his allies have been criticizing de Blasio's plan, which would raise taxes on New Yorkers earning over $500,000 a year to fund universal pre-K. They say de Blasio's plan relies too much on approval from Albany and does not consider that the state doesn't even use all of the state pre-K funding that it gets.
Their first point is a fair one. De Blasio's plan would require legislative approval, a step he says would come readily but which could be a heavy lift. The New York Times cited this shortcoming to explain why it did not endorse de Blasio.
But on the second point, about the unused state funding, Thompson's campaign's math does not add up. Calculating the true cost of expanding pre-K to all city 4-year-olds is a challenging task, pre-K advocates say, but no matter how the numbers are crunched, they suggest that the city would need more funding.
Harriet Tubman Charter School students were among several groups to visit Bronx Assemblyman Erik Stevenson's office on Tuesday.
When elected officials visit schools in their district, they generally follow a scripted routine. They cut ribbons, make speeches, and smile for pictures.
When the roles are reversed — as they were on Tuesday, when hundreds of charter school parents, students, and teachers convened in Albany to lobby lawmakers — the conversations aren't always so predictable.
Some of the charter school advocates stuck to talking points determined in advance by the lobby day's organizers. The New York City Charter Center and the New York Charter School Association want the legislature to give charter schools the right to operate pre-kindergarten programs, something state law currently precludes. The agenda is a response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to give $25 million to district schools that offer more full-day pre-K seats.
But in interviews and individual meetings with lawmakers, students and parents spoke about education issues that affected them personally. Almost all said they love the schools they attend, but they expressed concerns about their schools' safety, space, and resources. One parent from an upstate charter school said her child's special needs were not being adequately addressed.
Charter schools want to piggyback on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to expand pre-kindergarten across the state. But in order to benefit from Cuomo's $25 million in pre-K grants, the schools first must win the right to offer pre-K classes.
Pushing for that right is at the top of charter school supporters' agenda today as they convene in Albany as part of the charter sector's annual advocacy day. The parents will meet in the Albany Convention Center with more than a dozen legislators, then spend the rest of the day visiting their district representatives.
They're not the only ones lobbying lawmakers over pre-K this week. On Monday, police chiefs, principals, and education groups from around the state declared their support for Cuomo's pre-K grants, which represent a fraction of the $385 million that the state spends annually on pre-kindergarten.
The charter sector's lobbying efforts are not so straightforward, because the state's 1998 law authorizing the schools grants them the right to serve students in kindergarten to 12th grade only. Legislators would have to change to the law — last revised in 2010 amid heavy controversy — to allow pre-kindergarten in charter schools.
"It's our job to talk to lawmakers and say to them, 'Hey, does it really makes sense to a have a program where some really good schools don't have the ability to do full-day pre-K?'" said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio spoke at a 2010 rally outside Department of Education headquarters.
Comptroller John Liu wasn't the only possible mayoral contender to put forth a major education policy proposal today. In a speech to some of New York's wealthiest individuals, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called for new taxes on top earners to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.
New Yorkers who earn more than $500,000 a year would see their tax rate rise from 3.86 percent to 4.3 percent under the plan, which de Blasio outlined in a breakfast meeting held by the Association for a Better New York, a consortium of business and civic leaders. New Yorkers earning $1 million would see their tax bill rise by nearly $40,000 under the proposal.
The rate hike would generate $532 million a year, de Blasio said, allowing the city to create or expand 50,000 pre-kindergarten slots and extend the school day for 120,000 middle school students.
"This is not just a discussion of fairness or how we address inequality," de Blasio said, according to his prepared remarks. "This is a very economic discussion, because we’ve seen time and time again that this is where our education dollars have the biggest impact."
Advocates for early childhood education were quick to support de Blasio's proposal.
"We applaud Public Advocate de Blasio for today putting forward a bold, expansive, fully funded plan to ensure quality pre-K and after-school for many of New York's children," said Stephanie Gendell of the Campaign for Children, a group that emerged to fight child care cuts this spring.
But Mayor Bloomberg, the city's second-wealthiest resident, said he thought placing an additional burden on the city's wealthiest taxpayers would backfire.
City officials and philanthropists announced two new early childhood initiatives today. From left: Administration for Children's Services Commissioner Ronald Richter, Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Susie Buffett, of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund.
Instead of waiting until children are turning five years old to start educating them, the Department of Education is going to start targeting some children at five weeks.
Citing research that shows a correlation between long-term achievement and enrollment in high-quality early childhood programs, Mayor Bloomberg announced this morning that the city will open a school next year that enrolls children from infancy through pre-kindergarten — and their parents.
Bloomberg also announced a $20 million initiative to turn 4,000 oft-unused half-day pre-kindergarten seats into full-day slots that many parents find more attractive.
Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott made the announcements today in conjunction with "Education Nation," NBC's annual extravaganza of education policy programming hosted in Midtown Manhattan. This year's summit is focusing on innovations that have been proven to work.
One of those is early childhood education, which primes children for academic success in elementary school and beyond. Children's minds are already 85 percent developed by the time they are old enough for kindergarten, a 2005 study found, and early education advocates say interventions in infancy can have a far greater impact on the achievement gap than at any other period in children's lives.
In the proposed new school, which would open next September inside Brownsville's P.S. 41, low-income parents would be pushed to develop stronger social and emotional skills with their children while the children are infants and toddlers. Ultimately serving between 115 and 125 families a year, the school will be part of the Educare Schools network, which already operates 17 early childhood schools in 13 states.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott prepares to read to a group of 4-year-olds at the Bank Street Head Start center.
Using skills developed at his first job, Chancellor Dennis Walcott dropped to the floor at Manhattan's Bank Street Head Start center today and read a version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears to a circle of 4-year-olds.
Just as he said he had as a pre-kindergarten teacher in the 1970s, Walcott changed his voice for the different characters and acted out parts of the story, keeping the children laughing and acting along. (Watch video of the reading.)
The read-aloud came during a break in painting, mashing play dough, building with blocks, and assembling magnetic tiles — activities that look like fun and games but actually reflect the city's academic goals for pre-K students.
Those goals are set out in the city's new curriculum standards, called the Common Core, which start in pre-K. Like all city students, children in the Department of Education's pre-K classes are expected to complete Common Core-aligned "tasks" this year like the ones the DOE has suggested for units about trucks, plants, and the five senses.
Among the Common Core standards for pre-K: Students should engage in group reading activities such as the one Walcott led and practice addition and subtraction using everyday objects.
The city isn't sending as many 4-year-olds to pre-kindergarten as it could, according to an audit by Comptroller John Liu.
Liu's latest Department of Education audit looks at the way the city uses state funding for "universal pre-kindergarten" programs. The funds can be used to pay for half-day pre-K classes at public schools or through city or community-based preschool programs.
Even though many public schools maintain waiting lists for pre-kindergarten classes, especially where space is tight, many 4-year-olds are not enrolled in pre-K classes that could help prepare them for school. Every year, the audit calculates, the city returns an average of about $30 million in unused pre-K funding to the state.
"DOE's failure to fully allocate all UPK funds means that children who could have received pre-kindergarten classes are not being served," concludes the audit, which radiates evidence of tension between Liu's office and the DOE.
The department submitted its response to the audit "under protest" and calling the audit's focus "deliberately and stubbornly myopic, thereby rendering it of little, if any, worth." If Liu's office had looked at efforts to expand pre-K enrollment, the DOE argues, it would have found that the problem lies not with the department but in constricting state regulations.
An enormous challenge, the DOE and Liu's office agree, is that the state will only pay for two and a half hours of pre-K per day for each child.
Talking about Barack Obama's hopes for expanding early childhood education (school for 3- and 4-year-olds) Sam Dillon reports in the Times this morning that, despite efforts to make pre-kindergarten available, New York State's efforts are "far from complete." How far? Pretty far. There are two areas to pay attention to: access (how many 4-year-olds are actually enrolled in programs) and quality (are the programs doing real teaching or simply baby-sitting?).
Let's start with access. New York City advocates told me last year that they estimate demand for pre-kindergarten in the city at about 75,000 4-year-olds. Yet the number of 4-year-olds who are taking part so far this year is 54,000. That represents a steady increase from years past, the Department of Education's director of early childhood education, Recy B. Dunn, just told me in a telephone interview. But it's still far away from universal — and it's also below the number of seats the state agreed to pay for this year, 60,000, a package that would cost just over $230 million, Dunn said. The picture statewide is arguably bleaker. Winnie Hu of the Times reported last year that only 38% of 4-year-olds in the state participated in programs.