New York Lawmakers Reach Deal on Universal Pre-K and Charter Schools [Updated]

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Photo: Pool/2014 Getty Images

On Saturday morning, officials announced that Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers have agreed on a deal to fund universal prekindergarten in New York. As had been predicted, Mayor Bill de Blasio will not get to follow through on his big campaign promise to tax the city's wealthiest residents in order to pay for the program. Instead, the state budget will provide de Blasio with $300 million for pre-K expansion, which is about $40 million less than what he wanted. (Another $40 million of the budget has been earmarked for pre-K programs in parts of New York state other than New York City.)

The budget agreement, which still needs to be passed by the Legislature, includes a deal to increase tuition funding for charter schools over the next three years. (That's an extra $250 per student the first year, $350 the second year, and $500 in the third year.) The legislation will also allow charters to receive grants for their own early education programs, which they had previously been prevented from doing. Additionally, the legislation will require the city to house charters in public school buildings or pay most of the cost of space for them elsewhere. And the city will be prohibited from charging rent to charters — another idea de Blasio proposed when he was running for mayor.

De Blasio, of course, is not a huge fan of charters, though he recently softened his tone on the issue as the deadline for Albany to decide on how to allocate its education money drew closer. However, it seems that his efforts were too little and too late, as Cuomo had already seized the opportunity to position himself as the savior of charters which, as New York's Chris Smith and others have pointed out, neatly aligns with his pro-business agenda (as well as his desire to show de Blasio who's boss). During a Saturday call with reporters, Cuomo praised the proposed budget's "significant protections for the charter schools and the charter school movement, which is important for this state...We want to protect and grow and support that charter school movement and this budget does that."

Meanwhile, de Blasio released a statement hailing New York's "powerful and historic decision that will change the lives of tens of thousands of children." He continued, "We set out down this road nearly 18 months ago. Through ups and downs, we never wavered from our promise to the people of this city to expand full-day pre-K and afterschool for our children starting this September...Today that pledge became a reality. With this 5-year commitment, we can now move forward to deliver truly universal pre-K. We can add new high quality after-school programs and begin to address the challenges we face in our education system. These are foundational changes to our schools that will lift up every child."

This post has been updated throughout.