It was the summer of 1997, and the state of New York had just completed one of those absurdly late budgets that Gov. Cuomo has now made a ritual of ridiculing. However tardy the deal, people in New York City were excited by its contents: The state had promised to spend $857 million over four years to pay for universal pre-kindergarten. "It's a commitment we make to every 4-year-old in the state, a way to reach children to prepare them for school," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, according to the Daily News.
That commitment was never kept. As a report released in October by the Center for Children's Initiatives and the Campaign for Educational Equity found, today, "[n]early 40 percent of the state’s school districts are not even eligible to apply for state pre-K funding. At least 30,000 high-need four year olds are not served. And 75 percent of our pre-K students are in half-day programs, which research shows to be insufficient to meet the needs of children and their families."
During his budget address yesterday, Cuomo referenced the 1997 promise as evidence of the Empire State's deep loyalty to the idea that every kid should start school as prepared as possible, with disadvantages due to poverty drilled down as much as early childhood teachers can drill them. It was a nifty twist on what, looked at more coldly, was really a broken promise.