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Labor unites behind de Blasio’s pre-K plan

New York Teacher

Full day Pre-K for All
Leaders from all of the city’s major labor unions — representing 1.3 million workers — on Jan. 6 voiced their strong support for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for universal, full-day prekindergarten for the city’s 4-year-olds.

Of the significance of labor leaders standing side by side with the new mayor at the press conference at an early learning center in East Harlem, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “This is labor saying we are here to help all of the families of New York City.”

The mayor plans to impose a small city income tax on the wealthy — those earning more than $500,000 a year — in order to fund universal full-day, pre-K and after-school programs for middle-school students. Calling it an issue of “economic justice,” de Blasio said he would raise income tax rates on the wealthy from 3.9 percent to 4.4 percent for five years, an amount he likened to the daily cost of a “small soy latte from Starbucks.”

“It’s a fair amount to ask of those who are doing well,” the mayor said.

The tax would yield an estimated $530 million annually.

De Blasio said that the support of “the entire spectrum of the labor movement” for his initiative would help him secure the support of state lawmakers, who must approve city tax increases.

“This is going to be a big political lift, but you’re seeing labor is standing here saying we need to get this done,” said Mulgrew. Studies show, he noted, that “a child in all-day pre-K will have a better outcome than one who is not.”

Vincent Alvarez, the president of the city’s Central Labor Council, called the proposal “critical to tens of thousands of working New Yorkers.”

De Blasio said his tax plan, rather than finding money in the state education budget, was the only way to provide sustainable funding

“The governor has made a very clear commitment to pre-K, and I commend him for it,” de Blasio said. “That is different from reaching every child in New York City here and now. We don’t want a phase-in. We don’t want a someday.”

At a news conference on Dec. 19 at a Brooklyn education center, de Blasio named a team of religious, community, education and business leaders to head the effort and announced a campaign website — — to rally “people from every neighborhood to turn the plan into reality.”

Of the grassroots campaign, de Blasio said, “This is gathering together as many people as possible, getting them to reach out to their state Assembly members and state senators, building the kind of momentum that typically is what wins in situations like this.”

He cited the campaign as a moral imperative for the good of society and the family. “The people of this city are on our side,” he said, “and the facts are on our side.”

According to the mayor, roughly 50,000 children now attend half-day pre-K, or none at all. His plan involves converting close to 40,000 slots from part-time to full-time, and creating another 10,000 full-day slots.

NY Teacher