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Mayor Bill de Blasio: The City Will Be Ready for Pre-K

by Associated Press
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Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Kevin Case, Flickr

New York City hiring teachers for mayor's prekindergarten initiative.

With an eye toward Albany in the final days before the state budget is due, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio touted on Tuesday his administration's readiness to implement prekindergarten for more than 50,000 new students this fall.

De Blasio, who made universal prekindergarten the centerpiece of his first months in office, announced that the expected pool of those applying to teach prekindergarten in September should top 8,000, far more than the 1,000 new teachers he says is needed. Another 1,000 would be needed the following year when the program expands further.

The announcement is the latest in recent weeks - following ones on prekindergarten applicants and another on obtaining the necessary classroom space - seemingly meant to fill in details of the previously vague prekindergarten ideas de Blasio trotted out during his mayoral campaign. The show of readiness also appeared intended to impress Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has said that a city's plan needs to be "operationalized" before it can receive state funding.

"The classrooms are ready. The teachers are ready. New York City is ready to make history," de Blasio said. "It's well-established there is a need to fix our schools and that early childhood education is a fundamental way to do that."

De Blasio has for more than a year said a tax hike on wealthy New Yorkers was the best way to raise the $540 million he believes is needed for prekindergarten and expanded after-school programs. But that tax was opposed by Cuomo and has all but died in the state legislature.

Tellingly, de Blasio did not mention the tax once during his 45-minute news conference Tuesday.

Though the tax appeared in the state Assembly's budget resolution, the Senate ignored it, instead opting to allocate $540 million directly to the city. Some observers believe that the city will get less than that, particularly after Cuomo said recently that he did not want a predetermined amount of money sent to any city for prekindergarten.

"If we just say to a city, `You have X amount,' then there is no urgency for them to get it done," Cuomo said this month. "There is no set amount of money for New York City in my plan. It's whatever they need, whenever they need it, but it has to be operationalized."

The state budget is due next week. De Blasio's further move away from the tax on Tuesday comes after a major speech in which he softened his tone on charter schools, perhaps with aims of reducing another area of tension with Cuomo.

De Blasio enraged some charter school advocates - and their wealthy backers - by revoking three of their schools applications to co-locate in a public school building. Though he approved 14 other co-locations, his decision quickly came under fire in a multi-million ad campaign and Cuomo repeatedly criticized him.

The mayor spoke Sunday at Manhattan's Riverside Church, long a bastion of liberal politics, and struck a conciliatory tone, acknowledging missteps and pledging to "work with (charter school leaders) in good faith." He also tried to shift emphasis away from the charter school flare-up, which has dragged down his poll numbers, and refocused on the hopes that his prekindergarten program was about to come to life.

 "I know a victory is upon us," he said Sunday. "I know it's been a long journey, but I know a moment of change is about to happen. I know in the next few days the world will change before our very eyes."

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