Op-ed: Why I support Mayor de Blasio’s plan for universal pre-K


| oped@queenscourier.com |

COUNCILWOMAN JULISSA FERRERAS

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for universal pre-kindergarten in New York City. Often overlooked is that the plan would provide more than just high-quality programs for our youngest learners, it would also fund after-school programs for every interested middle schooler in New York. As chairwoman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, I support the de Blasio plan because it’s such a cost-effective way to address one of the most pressing challenges the city faces. As the former director of an after-school program, I support the plan because I know firsthand how critical after-school support can be in developing and safeguarding adolescents. It’s inspiring that both the Assembly and Senate have put forward budget proposals that meet these goals.

As you probably know, the mayor’s plan – which the Assembly also supports – would modestly raise income tax rates for New York City earners making more than $500,000 a year, from 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent for a period of five years. That’s a smaller increase than previous mayors have sought from Albany for key projects, and still would generate $530 million in new revenue for each of those years. Much of that revenue would be used to create tens of thousands of pre-K slots for 4 year olds, but $190 million would be directed to after-school programs. The Senate Majority Conference proposes funding after-school for every middle school student through the budget. Both proposals offer the funding needed to make the historic expansion of after-school a reality in New York City.

The city currently offers a little more than 45,000 after-school slots, which serve 56,300 students (not every student goes every day) in 239 schools. Fully, one in four children are left alone and unsupervised after school ends, the time of day when juvenile crime and violence are at their highest, and there are 237 public schools in which middle-school-age children don’t have access to comprehensive after-school. The funding from the de Blasio plan would allow the city to increase the number of after-school spots to 95,000—an addition of about 68,800 new slots—across 512 local schools, serving 120,000 children. The goal is for every child who’s interested to be able to participate. Programs would be free, run from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and mostly be run by local organizations experienced in working in the community.

As a former director of one such organization, I spent years running after-school at P.S. 19, a Beacon program, and it was my privilege to watch the effect of high-quality programming on young people who would otherwise be falling behind. Just as early education, including pre-K, is vital to a child’s success later in life, after-school for young adolescents is a bridge that helps them maintain momentum—or, in the case of struggling students, a way to regain lost time and get back on track. Studies show that children who participate in these programs behave better in school, do better in class and on tests, and have improved attendance records. After-school programs also help kids identify subjects and disciplines they enjoy and in which they can excel.

The expansion of after-school programming under the de Blasio plan would be a win for everyone. Far more children would have access to programs that would help cultivate their interests and improve their performance in school, all while ensuring they’re under supervision and avoiding the kinds of trouble that can derail a promising young life. The Legislature must work with the governor to ensure that the funding needed for expanded after-school and universal pre-K is part of the State’s final budget.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras represents the 21st Council District encompassing Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights. She is also the Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Finance.