call of duty

Public advocate tells city's elite he'd raise taxes to pay for pre-K

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, speaking today on the steps of the Department of Education's headquarters at Tweed Courthouse
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio spoke at a 2010 rally outside Department of Education headquarters.

Comptroller John Liu wasn’t the only possible mayoral contender to put forth a major education policy proposal today. In a speech to some of New York’s wealthiest individuals, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called for new taxes on top earners to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.

New Yorkers who earn more than $500,000 a year would see their tax rate rise from 3.86 percent to 4.3 percent under the plan, which de Blasio outlined in a breakfast meeting held by the Association for a Better New York, a consortium of business and civic leaders. New Yorkers earning $1 million would see their tax bill rise by nearly $40,000 under the proposal.

The rate hike would generate $532 million a year, de Blasio said, allowing the city to create or expand 50,000 pre-kindergarten slots and extend the school day for 120,000 middle school students.

“This is not just a discussion of fairness or how we address inequality,” de Blasio said, according to his prepared remarks. “This is a very economic discussion, because we’ve seen time and time again that this is where our education dollars have the biggest impact.”

Advocates for early childhood education were quick to support de Blasio’s proposal.

“We applaud Public Advocate de Blasio for today putting forward a bold, expansive, fully funded plan to ensure quality pre-K and after-school for many of New York’s children,” said Stephanie Gendell of the Campaign for Children, a group that emerged to fight child care cuts this spring.

But Mayor Bloomberg, the city’s second-wealthiest resident, said he thought placing an additional burden on the city’s wealthiest taxpayers would backfire.

“He wants to drive everybody out of the city, but that’s okay, he’s a good guy,” Bloomberg said about de Blasio during a press conference in Brooklyn about the Young Men’s Initiative, a privately funded program to help black and Latino young men.

De Blasio, whose bid for public advocate in 2009 won the support of the labor-driven Working Families Party, acknowledged in his prepared comments the challenge of selling a tax increase to the very people who would be affected.

“Some of you may be thinking that this is an interesting place to come and make this proposal. You might say, ‘You have come to the lion’s den,'” he said. “Well, I think it’s a room full of people who care about New York City. I think it is a room full of people who know our educational status quo is unacceptable. And I also think it’s a room full of people that know what a smart and strategic investment looks like and this is the kind we need.”

The Bloomberg administration announced last month that it would use $20 million in city funds to turn 4,000 half-day pre-K slots into full-day slots, which families prefer. Under de Blasio’s plan, the number of slots that would go from half- to full-day would be more than 38,000. He would also create 10,000 new full-day slots to accommodate children who currently are not attending any pre-K program at all.

He would also award schools grants of up to $1 million to partner with nonprofits and community groups with a track record of providing high-quality extended day programming.

the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.

hope on the horizon

With promise of new federal money, more low-income Colorado families could get help with child care

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

Thousands of additional Colorado families might be able to pay for child care if a federal spending bill due in March fulfills the pledge of a recently approved budget deal.

That’s because the deal, passed by Congress and signed by President Trump earlier this month, promised new money for a subsidy program that helps low-income parents pay for child care. In Colorado, the program is oversubscribed with more than 1,300 children on waitlists statewide.

While the spending bill won’t be finalized until March 23, advocates in Colorado say they think there’s a good chance the new child care money — $2.9 billion for the whole country over two years — will survive the negotiation process.

“I think that we will see this go through,” said Bill Jaeger, vice president of early childhood initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

“I don’t think that child care and the block grant will be the major point of contention,” he said, referring to the federal grant that helps fund the subsidies.

(Trump’s own budget proposal, released three days after he signed the budget deal, doesn’t include increased child care block grant funding, but some observers say the budget deal holds more sway.)

If the two-year spending bill passes with the new child care funding included, Colorado could gain around $35 million, according to an estimate from the national anti-poverty group CLASP. That’s on top of the $150 million Colorado would get over the two-year period if the program’s funding simply stayed flat.

Practically speaking, the additional $35 million could mean child care subsidies for an additional 2,700 Colorado children over two years, according to a separate CLASP analysis.

State officials declined to comment on the federal budget proposal, saying in an email, “It is possible that, if approved, we could see an increase in services, but right now it’s all theoretical.”

Low-income parents who are working, looking for work, or in school make up the largest chunk of people eligible for child care subsidies, which are offered through the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program and administered by the state’s counties. About 31,000 children were served through the program last year.

In addition to child care subsidies, the federal block grant helps pay for a number of other programs, including child care licensing and the state’s child care rating system, Colorado Shines.

El Paso County officials say the new federal money could help them eliminate the waitlist for subsidies they had to start for the first time in January. There are 196 children on the list, and it’s growing steadily.

Julie Krow, executive director of the county’s human service department, said some parents may opt for unlicensed child care if they can’t get a subsidy, sending their children to stay with relatives or neighbors during the workday.

The quality of such care varies widely and is mostly unregulated by the state.

“We don’t want to see kids left in unsafe situations because of this,” Krow said, referring to the shortage of subsidies.

When early childhood programs are underfunded, she said, child abuse and neglect cases, which are also in her department’s purview, can rise.

The new federal child care dollars would help reduce or eliminate subsidy waitlists across Colorado, but wouldn’t completely satisfy the need. That’s because the number of children on waitlists represents only a fraction of those eligible for subsidies but not served.

For now, Krow is hopeful the new money will be approved and sent quickly to states and then to counties.

“It’s a program I really believe in,” she said. “As soon as those federal dollars come out, I’m hoping the state has a plan and they are out the door.”