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Issues Economic and Social Justice Economic and Social Justice Will New York City Lead the Way on Pre-K?
Tuesday, 07 January 2014 01:24

Will New York City Lead the Way on Pre-K?

Written by  Dana Goldstein | The Nation
Preschool children watch El Museo del Barrio’s thirty-fourth annual Three Kings Day parade, Thursday, January 6, 2011, in New York. Preschool children watch El Museo del Barrio’s thirty-fourth annual Three Kings Day parade, Thursday, January 6, 2011, in New York. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

At the Future of America Learning Center in the West Bronx, the pre-K curriculum is built around adult jobs—visiting real workplaces and then learning about the vocabulary and skills that grown-ups use every day.

At a career-month event, 4-year-olds meet doctors and nurses from the Montefiore Medical Center. Back in their classroom, they set up a replica triage desk and play doctor with a real stethoscope and blood-pressure cuff. In another unit, students visit a Citibank vault and then deposit real coins in a classroom bank. 

If they are upset, children can choose to visit the “oasis,” a corner furnished with soft carpets, pillows and a mini-armchair. The idea is for kids to learn resilience, the self-soothing skills that help people of all ages overcome conflict, disappointment and discomfort. There are three adults in each twenty-student classroom at Future of America, one with a master’s degree. And the center is open for eleven hours per day, which means people—a good number of them single parents—can drop their children off on the way to work and pick them up when their shift is over, without worrying about arranging after-school baby-sitting or nutritious meals. All of that is provided at one location. 

This is a gold-standard pre-K education—the kind that, according to research by Nobel Prize–winning economist James Heckman, increases children’s lifetime earnings and their chances of being employed, and decreases their probability of becoming incarcerated or reliant on public assistance as adults. Heckman has found that high-quality pre-K yields returns of $17 for every $1 in government spending. 

And this gold-standard pre-K is expensive. A year at Future of America costs about $19,000 per child, covered by state and city dollars, a sliding scale of tuition payments based on parental income, plus an additional large funding stream unique to Future of America: subsidies from unionized employers like hospitals and nursing homes. This is because Future of America is operated by the Service Employees International Union’s 1199 chapter. Over 80 percent of the students’ parents are union members, working as nurses, surgical technicians, kitchen staff and janitors.

Few New York City children—or American children—have access to an affordable, full-day, high-quality pre-K program like this one. Though parents in affluent New York neighborhoods shell out up to $40,000 per year to pay for private preschool, 41 percent of the city’s 3- and 4-year-olds—and almost half in the Bronx—are not enrolled in any early childhood education at all. And despite the fact that a 1997 state law guarantees pre-K to all New York City 4-year-olds, that program has never met its $500 million funding target, and 75 percent of the students enrolled are in half-day pre-K, which conforms neither to their parents’ work schedule nor to the children’s academic, social and emotional needs. 

In New York City, applicants for the free pre-K programs housed in public schools—which account for just over one-third of the city’s pre-K slots; the rest are in community-based organizations—exceed the number of seats by a ratio of 3.5 to 1 in the Bronx, 4 to 1 in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and 5 to 1 in Manhattan and Queens.

Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor-elect, ran for office on the platform of changing all this. His signature policy proposal is to fund a full day of free pre-K for every 4-year-old in the city by raising the tax on personal income over $500,000 from 3.86 to 4.41 percent. This would mean turning some 40,000 half-day slots into full-day slots and creating an additional 10,000 pre-K seats in existing or new programs, managed either by the Department of Education or private organizations like the SEIU, the Children’s Aid Society or the city’s many neighborhood-based settlement houses. 

This bold attempt at redistribution from the city’s economic elite to poor, working- and middle-class families has captured the public’s imagination. A November 2013 poll from Quinnipiac found that 68 percent of city voters and 63 percent of voters statewide support the idea. Politically, the enthusiasm outside the city is crucial, since Mayor de Blasio will need the state legislature’s permission to raise personal income taxes on the city’s highest earners. 

Just a few months ago, that seemed an impossible ask; even Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo voiced reluctance on raising taxes and named a tax-relief commission to offer recommendations on lowering them. Much of the business community, meanwhile, reacted to de Blasio’s candidacy with a collective shudder.

But recently, the outlook for de Blasio’s pre-K plan began to look brighter. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate co-leader Jeff Klein announced their support for the income tax hike. Though Cuomo won’t commit to a specific funding mechanism, he has said he stands firm with the mayor-elect on the underlying goal of expanding access to full-day pre-K. And the governor’s tax commission has mostly steered clear of recommendations on personal income taxes.

Early childhood advocates point out that Albany has cooperated in the past with New York City mayors who wanted to raise taxes to finance special projects, as the legislature agreed to do for Mayor Dinkins to fund the “Safe Streets, Safe City” initiative in the 1990s, and for Mayor Bloomberg after 9/11 and again in the depths of the recession in 2009. Progressives who endorsed de Blasio’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Bill Thompson, have been rolling back their earlier criticism of the mayor-elect’s income tax plan as unrealistic. 

“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,” said American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten in an early- December statement. 

The business community has sensed the swelling support for universal pre-K and is staying mostly quiet. Yet that doesn’t mean business-oriented donors and groups, like the Partnership for New York City, won’t lobby behind the scenes in Albany, hand in hand with centrist and conservative legislators, to water down de Blasio’s plan or come up with a funding source other than higher income taxes on the wealthy. 

Complicating the picture is that Wall Street and education advocates are tracking de Blasio’s fraught tango with the charter school sector, a philanthropic darling. During the campaign, de Blasio pledged to charge deep-pocketed charter networks rent for the space they use inside public school buildings, an unpopular idea with school choice reformers that has led many of them—even those supportive of pre-K—to view de Blasio with suspicion.

De Blasio has mentioned former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charter network as an organization that can afford to pay rent, prompting Moskowitz to help organize a protest march across the Brooklyn Bridge. Asked about de Blasio’s pre-K plan, Moskowitz steered clear of commenting on the funding mechanism and instead pitched the charter school sector—which is currently unable, according to state law, to provide pre-K—as a potential way to scale up access to early education. “We support the expansion of universal pre-K programs, but believe any policy should allow public charter schools the opportunity to provide these services as well,” Moskowitz said. Of course, such a plan would create new nonunionized pre-K teaching jobs and would likely attract opposition from organized labor. 

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, argues that privately managed, publicly funded charter schools are a natural fit in the world of pre-K, where a mix of government and nonprofit providers already compete for students. “Whatever argument you might have with the charter sector, I don’t think you can deny that a large number of them in New York State have provided a high-quality education,” Merriman says. “I think it’s in the mayor’s best interest—his political self-interest—as well as smart policy to make pre-K an issue around which everyone can participate and be for.” 

Some progressive Wall Street insiders, like the investment banker and Century Foundation fellow Dan Alpert, aren’t fully sold on the idea of income taxes financing early childhood education. “It’s kind of hard to argue that the wealthy are undertaxed in the city of New York, where the combined marginal tax rate is around 45 percent when you include federal, state and local,” Alpert says. Instead, he points out that expensive luxury homes and apartments in Manhattan are underassessed for property tax purposes relative to comparable residences in wealthy suburbs. “That would be another place to look for revenue support,” he says.

There are other potential ways to fund pre-K, though some of the alternatives are more regressive than an income tax. In San Antonio, Mayor Julián Castro expanded pre-K access by championing a November 2012 ballot initiative that raised the sales tax by an eighth of a cent. In Denver, a 2006 ballot initiative supported by then-Mayor John Hickenlooper (now the governor of Colorado) increased sales tax revenue for pre-K tuition credits, and today about 70 percent of Denver 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool. Denver’s program is especially promising because children who enrolled demonstrated a 9.3 percent advantage on third-grade reading tests four years later. President Obama has suggested funding state-level pre-K expansions through an increase in the tobacco tax, a plan that is wending its way through Congress, where House Republicans are likely to spike it. 

De Blasio, though, is standing firm on the income tax as his favored strategy for funding pre-K. “I’m convinced this is the best way to get this done,” he said at a late-November event at Columbia University. “I think it’s a fair way to get it done. I think it’s an available way to get it done. I think it’s a fast way to get it done.” Several weeks later, the de Blasio transition team announced UPKNYC, a public outreach campaign in favor of universal pre-K, headlined by celebrities like John Legend, Cynthia Nixon and Al Sharpton.

If Albany cooperates on funding—either through the income tax or some other mechanism—there will be at least two major challenges that remain. The first is real estate: there is simply not enough space in existing public school buildings and community organizations to serve tens of thousands of additional kids. Jennifer March, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, suggests that underused public housing stock, especially on the ground floors of apartment complexes, could be one solution. She also suggests using tax revenue to enable the city or nonprofits to rent pre-K space in the new market-rate buildings shooting up in booming neighborhoods like Sunnyside and Long Island City, both in Queens. 

The second challenge will be guaranteeing that the new pre-K seats are high-quality ones. A lot of that has to do with training and supporting the early childhood workforce, which is disproportionately female. 

Bonnie Lou Mallonga, the director of the Future of America Learning Center, pays her head teachers a starting salary of $35,000, compared to a starting salary of more than $51,000 for kindergarten teachers with the same level of education. That income gap persists over the course of a career in early childhood education.

“Pre-K teachers have the same skills and credentials” as K–12 educators, Mallonga says, and the more we learn about the neuroscience of early childhood development, the more complex the job becomes. Yet the best teachers in the city’s pre-K system often aspire to move into K–12 schools or even to leave education altogether and become nannies for affluent families, where they can earn twice as much. “That’s the reality we’re dealing with,” Mallonga says—one that a modest increase in income taxes can’t fully address. “It’s sad,” she adds. Future of America and other leading pre-K programs in the city are increasingly partnering with local colleges and universities to guarantee a seamless stream of education and training for incoming and working teachers.

Gail Nayowith, the executive director of SCO Family of Services and a member of de Blasio’s pre-K task force, has been observing the debate over child welfare in New York for over twenty years, and she is optimistic that universal free pre-K will soon be as commonplace as universal free kindergarten. “Finally, we have a breakthrough generation of leaders who are positioning this issue politically,” she says.

She points out that universal pre-K offers multiple “bottom-line” benefits to New York: childcare that allows low- and middle-income parents to work instead of relying on public assistance; a reduction in  remediation costs for K–12 schools, because children begin kindergarten better prepared academically; and a long-term improvement in the social and educational skills of the New York workforce, as reflected in Heckman’s research. “I’m a true believer,” she says. 

What remains to be seen is to what extent the mayor-elect will expend his political capital on the city’s youngest and least powerful residents. Will de Blasio push pre-K in Albany as hard as he has promised to? “He’s on the line to give it the old college try,” Alpert observes, “because he campaigned so heavily on this issue.”

Link to original article from The Nation

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    Over the last three decades the wealth of the nation's very richest 1% has grown ten times that of the average worker and over that time period that same tiny elite has captured more than half of the entire income increases, leaving the bottom 99% to divide the remaining gains.

    Written on Saturday, 22 February 2014 16:11 Read more...
  • Michael Sam stands tall
    Michael Sam stands tall

    “I’m a football player, and I’m gay.” With those words, Michael Sam, an All-American defensive end from the University of Missouri, demonstrated courage far beyond that demanded on the football field. And America may, for the first time, witness an openly gay man playing professional football.

    Written on Wednesday, 12 February 2014 03:20 Read more...
  • Preserve social programs that work
    Preserve social programs that work

    I started a chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America in Springfield a few years ago. Since then our chapter has grown to include the Greater Springfield Area. At an event last fall in front of U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin’s office we had 75 folks attend from various unions and organizations, many of them traveling from Normal, Bloomington, Peoria, Jacksonville, Morrisonville and Champaign.

    Written on Friday, 07 February 2014 03:25 Read more...
  • Conversations with Great Minds P1 - Rep Keith Ellison - My Country 'Tis of Thee
    Conversations with Great Minds P1 - Rep Keith Ellison - My Country 'Tis of Thee

    Congressman Keith Ellison(D-MN, 5th District) / Author of the new book, My Country 'Tis of Thee: My Faith, My Family, Our Future joins Thom Hartmann.

    Written on Thursday, 06 February 2014 22:36 Read more...
  • JESSE JACKSON: Response to President Obama's 2014 State of the Union Address
    JESSE JACKSON: Response to President Obama's 2014 State of the Union Address

    The country seems turned off and tuned out to the Congress, politics generally and the federal government in particular. The good news is the emerging grass-roots movement exemplified by The Dreamers and the burgeoning campaign among low income workers around the nation, offering a clear challenge to the political gridlock, the inaction and non-work by Congress. Seeking to respond to this grassroots energy and to combat the frustration many people are feeling around the country, President Obama presented an optimistic tone, an uplifting message and a new plan of action to move America forward.

    Written on Thursday, 30 January 2014 20:01 Read more...
  • State of the Union: Right on Wages, Wrong on Trade
    State of the Union: Right on Wages, Wrong on Trade

    President Obama wants 2014 to be a “year of action” in which the country finally begins to address a wealth gap that has made the term “income inequality” the catchphrase of the moment. And he framed the crisis well in his fifth State of the Union address:

    Written on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 17:32 Read more...
  • House passes $956B farm bill
    House passes $956B farm bill

    The House on Wednesday approved a mammoth, $956 billion farm bill in a bipartisan vote.

    Members approved the House-Senate agreement on farm policy in a 251-166 vote. A majority of Republicans backed the bill, with 63 GOP no votes. But a majority of Democrats opposed it, with 103 voting no.

    Written on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 16:45 Read more...
  • Pete Seeger: This Man Surrounded Hate and Forced it to Surrender
     Pete Seeger: This Man Surrounded Hate and Forced it to Surrender

    When some of the greatest musicians in the world gathered five years ago to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of the musician who inspired them all, Bruce Springsteen told Pete Seeger: “You outlasted the bastards, man.”

    And so he did.

    Written on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 16:30 Read more...
  • State of the Union: It doesn’t have to be this way
    State of the Union: It doesn’t have to be this way

    President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night will focus on inequality, on the reality that this economy does not work for working people. Given the obstruction of House and Senate Republicans, the president faces the reality that little of what he proposes can pass this Congress. He has vowed to use his “pen” and “phone” to act unilaterally where he can. But the real challenge is to explain to the American people what the reality is, what must be done and who is standing in the way.

    Written on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 15:56 Read more...
  • Ellison’s Steps to Income Equality: More Powerful Unions and Weaker Trade
    Ellison’s Steps to Income Equality: More Powerful Unions and Weaker Trade

    Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said that increasing the power of unions is key to addressing income inequality in America.

    “We need a comprehensive plan, but let’s start with increasing the right to collective bargaining,” Ellison said on MSNBC. “We’ve got to get workers on the job in a position to demand that the wealth that they create be shared by the company. That’s a key thing. If you look at how wages has stagnated in the United States and you look at how union did something that has gone down, the lines track right together. You got to get power in the hands of the workers. That’s key.”

    Written on Thursday, 23 January 2014 18:18 Read more...
  • Celebrating MLK: A drum major for justice
    Celebrating MLK: A drum major for justice

    As I went from event to event Monday celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, I was struck by both the tribute and the distortion.

    The tribute is remarkable. Martin Luther King held no public office. He amassed no great fortune. He led no victorious armies

    Written on Tuesday, 21 January 2014 16:03 Read more...
  • Keith Ellison Blasts Inaction on Government-Backed Poverty: “The Most Remarkable Dodge I’ve Ever Seen”
    Keith Ellison Blasts Inaction on Government-Backed Poverty: “The Most Remarkable Dodge I’ve Ever Seen”

    One day after a top Obama administration official deflected a congressman’s call for executive action to raise labor standards for contractors, activists Wednesday announced the filing of a new Department of Labor complaint over alleged wage theft in a government building. The complaint alleges that dozens of workers in D.C.’s government-owned Union Station are owed over $3 million in back pay and damages for rampant failure to pay minimum wage or overtime.

    Written on Saturday, 18 January 2014 16:26 Read more...
  • King’s evolving Dream
    King’s evolving Dream

    It is that time to pause and think about the incredible life and contributions of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., oftentimes referred to as MLK. He was named Michael King Jr. after his father ­ who later changed both their names to Martin Luther, in honor of the religious reformer.

    Written on Saturday, 18 January 2014 15:37 Read more...
  • Moral Monday Movement Spreads Through the South
    Moral Monday Movement Spreads Through the South

    After drawing thousands of protesters to the state legislature and inspiring the arrests of more than 900 people for nonviolent civil disobedience, North Carolina's Moral Monday movement challenging the extreme conservative agenda of the state's Republican-controlled legislature and administration is gearing up for more actions in 2014.

    Written on Monday, 13 January 2014 13:30 Read more...
  • On 50th anniversary of 'War on Poverty' speech, Worcester Rep. Jim McGovern says cuts to SNAP are 'war on poor people'
    On 50th anniversary of 'War on Poverty' speech, Worcester Rep. Jim McGovern says cuts to SNAP are 'war on poor people'

    U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern says the "War on Poverty" has shifted from helping the poor to fighting them.

    McGovern, a Democrat who represents the 2nd district, spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday about hunger in America and potential cuts to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) in the proposed Farm Bill.

    Written on Saturday, 11 January 2014 15:37 Read more...
  • War on Poverty wages on
    War on Poverty wages on

    Fifty years ago this week, President Lyndon Johnson, lamenting that too many Americans “live on the outskirts of hope,” declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” This will not be “a short or easy struggle,” he stated in his State of the Union address to the Congress, “no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we will not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

    Written on Tuesday, 07 January 2014 18:11 Read more...
  • Will New York City Lead the Way on Pre-K?
    Will New York City Lead the Way on Pre-K?

    At the Future of America Learning Center in the West Bronx, the pre-K curriculum is built around adult jobs—visiting real workplaces and then learning about the vocabulary and skills that grown-ups use every day.

    Written on Tuesday, 07 January 2014 01:24 Read more...
  • Advice for Young Women: Get a Union Job
    Advice for Young Women: Get a Union Job

    Back in the days before modern feminism, a young woman looking for work might typically be advised, politely, to “learn a trade,” with the implication that she wasn't bound for college or an elite career, but a humbler job as, say, a secretary or seamstress. Such a phrase might sound condescending today. Yet working in a trade might still be sound career goal for a woman, if she gets the right kind of job—in a union.

    Written on Tuesday, 24 December 2013 21:30 Read more...
  • Walmart Workers Will Make History on Friday As America Confronts Growing Inequality
    Walmart Workers Will Make History on Friday As America Confronts Growing Inequality

    This Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, tens of millions of Americans will travel to Walmart stores to look for holiday discounts on computers, toys, and cell phones as well as to buy groceries and basic household items.

    Written on Saturday, 30 November 2013 15:20 Read more...
  • McDonald's: Low-Paid Workers, High-Flying Execs
    McDonald's: Low-Paid Workers, High-Flying Execs

    He was CEO of the hamburger behemoth, McDonald's, pulling down a hefty $8.8 million in pay. Last year, though, Skinner retired, and, rather than getting a gold watch, he was given a load of gold — so large that even a Brink's armored truck would have been too small to haul it all away. His salary of $753,000 was the least of it.

    Written on Thursday, 21 November 2013 13:44 Read more...
  • Growing Movement: Expand Social Security or 'Pay a Price'
    Growing Movement: Expand Social Security or 'Pay a Price'

    Sen. Warren: 'Social Security is incredibly effective, it is incredibly popular, and the calls for strengthening it are growing louder every day.'

    With Social Security cuts once again on the table in closed-door congressional budget negotiations, a growing movement has taken the offensive, demanding that lawmakers strengthen, rather than stranglehold, our social safety net.

    Written on Thursday, 21 November 2013 13:36 Read more...
  • Paul Ryan Gets 700,000 ‘No’ Votes on Social Security Cuts
    Paul Ryan Gets 700,000 ‘No’ Votes on Social Security Cuts

    Ryan’s office on Wednesday received a petition signed by more than 700,000 people that said there should be “no grand bargain” in the budget negotiations being led by Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., “in exchange for cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.”

    Written on Saturday, 16 November 2013 03:10 Read more...
  • House Dems Can Block GOP Food Stamp Cuts—By Killing the Farm Bill
    House Dems Can Block GOP Food Stamp Cuts—By Killing the Farm Bill

    The farm bill will almost inevitably include deep cuts to the food stamps program—unless House Democrats join with conservatives to kill the bill. The food stamps program—which helps feed one in seven Americans—is in peril. Republicans in the House have proposed a farm bill—the five-year bill that funds agriculture and nutrition programs—that would slash food stamps by $40 billion. But by taking advantage of House Republicans' desire to cut food stamps as much as possible, Democrats might be able to prevent cuts from happening at all.

    Written on Tuesday, 12 November 2013 15:28 Read more...
  • Food Stamps, Yes!
    Food Stamps, Yes!

    If you’re reading this column, you probably don’t participate in a government program such as SNAP, to help provide food for your family. If you can afford to have a newspaper delivered to your home, or if you have a computer and an internet connection so you can read online, you may have more than enough money for food.

    Written on Friday, 04 October 2013 01:50 Read more...

Does Your Legislator Support the Robin Hood Tax?

Join "Countdown to Coverage" Share TPP with your Daily Newspaper

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Two CWA members - Dave Felice in Denver, CO and Madelyn Elder in Portland, OR have started the ball rolling. We just need to keep up the momentum leading up to a big day of petition deliveries.

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Hand Deliver a Letter to your Rep on Jobs

If your Representative is not currently a cosponsor of HR 1000 they may not completely understand how important full employment is to your community; click on your state at the bottom of this page to see all the cosponsors in your state. Nothing sends a stronger message to a Congressional member than a personal visit to a district office by a voter with a written request. Phone calls and emails are incredibly important but nothing gets attention like a personal visit. Our Educate Congress page has information and a sample letter. Print the letter, sign it, deliver it.

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Report on your TPP Contact

Please let us know your legislator's stance on Fast Track Authorization for the Trans Pacific Partnership as well as their stance on the TPP in General. Click here to report the response.

The Robin Hood Tax

Robin Hood Tax: John Nichols and Keith Ellison and Michael Lighty

Why The Robin Hood Tax

Rep. Jim McGovern on Protecting SNAP

Workers Speak Out on the TPP

PDA Labor Panel - Progressive Central III

Main Street NOT Wall Street

The Trans Pacific Partnership: Corporate Global Domination

Lori Wallach on the TPP from PDA Progressive Roundtable

Progressive Roundtable with Reps. Ellison and Pocan and Lori Wallach on TPP

Lori Wallach Leaked TPP Documents (Democracy NOW)

TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of

Lori Wallach on Thom Hartmann (Great Minds) - The TPP

TPP Downloads

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June 29th TPP Powerpoint

CWA TPP Jobs Report

Endorse HR 1000

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