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Opinions vary about funding for statewide pre-kindergarten

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Albany/HV: Opinions vary about funding for statewide pre-kindergarten
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Universal pre-kindergarten is Governor Andrew Cuomo's focus this year, but the problem is how to fund it. Our Nick Reisman breaks down what lawmakers are saying about it.

STATEWIDE -- Governor Andrew Cuomo's pre-kindergarten plan is geared to spread the program statewide. However, opponents say there's just not enough money being set aside.

Even supporters in the Senate say the funding requires a phased-in approach.

"Well, there's enough money in the budget to get it started and I think that's all the governor is claiming in the dollars for the pre-k, and it's obviously going to have to be a yearly discussion concerning how many more pre-k programs there are," said John DeFrancisco, the Senate Finance Chairman.

Cuomo's $142 billion budget would expand pre-kindergarten programs at $1.5 billion over five years. This year, $100 million would be spent, with additional funds being added each year.

DeFrancisco said, "It'll be up to future legislative bodies whether or not there's going to be enough funding to keep it going and accelerate it."

That concerns the supporters of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan, which would hike taxes for anyone earning $500,000 and more per year to pay for a city-wide program.

Senator Liz Krueger said, "I actually think the mayor's tax surcharge proposal is the smartest move for the rest of the state and the city. The city of New York has said this is such a priority for us, we're prepared to tax ourselves to pay for New York City's program."

The de Blasio tax increase has more support in the Assembly, where Speaker Sheldon Silver noted this week that schools and cities outside of New York City can raise and lower their property taxes to fund education.

"They are free to raise and lower that tax without any action in Albany. The city of New York is unique in that the schools and other city services are funded by a property tax and a personal income tax," said Silver.

However, Senate Republicans back Cuomo's approach to fund pre-k statewide without raising taxes.

"I think the governor is absolutely correct. We have to hold the line and pay for it with dollars that are available from New York state taxpayers," said DeFrancisco.

State Education Commissioner John King has pegged the annual cost of universal pre-k statewide at $1.6 billion.

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