To Tax or Not to Tax? How to Fund UPK in New York

Universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) and after-school programs are essential to a child’s future success in school and in life. Research shows that full-day UPK reduces income inequality and increases social mobility.[1] Free, universal, high-quality prekindergarten would greatly benefit children from low-income families, who encounter numerous barriers to learning, but expanding full-day UPK and afterschool programs in New York City would be costly and require a significant amount of funding. The overall expansion plan would cost $2.6 billion over five years, State Education Commissioner John King has said, and full-day UPK could cost $1.6 billion a year to implement.[2]

The Mayor and Governor agree on the importance of these programs, but differ in how to fund them. Mayor Bill de Blasio has released a proposal to increase the personal income tax rate on City incomes over $500,000, from the current 3.88 percent to 4.41 percent to provide stable funding for universal pre-K.[3] Governor Andrew Cuomo has his own plan to fund statewide universal pre-K classes through the State budget without raising taxes. The battle over the schooling of four-year-olds and afterschool programs for middle school students between the Mayor and the Governor lies in their different funding choices. It is not a winter’s talk, but it is definitely going to be a tale of two ideologies in this case.

Overall, taxing the rich may help fulfill his “a tale of two cities” campaign, but it is also a smart political strategy given the Mayor’s political constituency that leans progressive. The political climate in the State, however, is a little more conservative and it is an election year for Governor Cuomo. Additionally, to pass Mayor de Blasio’s tax plan, it requires State authorization. But, the nature of the problem should not be about politics; instead Pre-K funding is an issue of smart public policy.

Comparison between the two plans

Funding sources:        

  • Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to increase the personal income tax on incomes over $500,000, from the current 3.88 percent to 4.41 percent would guarantee $500 million in revenue in Fiscal 2015.[4]
  • As part of Cuomo’s $138 billion budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins April 1, Governor Cuomo calls for $1.5 billion in State spending over five years for UPK and middle school expansion from the State budget.[5]

 Per Child cost for UPK:

  • Under Mayor de Blasio’s plan, the per child cost for UPK would be approximately $10,239, and the current average cost per child is $7.207.[6]
  • Governor Cuomo’s plan does not specify.

New seats created under the full-day UPK:

  • New York City would require 73,250 seats to meet the plan, including 13,845 new seats and 27,241 half-day seats to be converted to full-day.[7]
  • Governor Cuomo’s plan does not specify.

Additional Funding for afterschool programs and classroom infrastructure:        

  • Mayor de Blasio’s tax plan would use $190 million a year for after school programs in the City.[8]
  • Governor Cuomo wants to separately fund the addition of pre-K classroom space through a $2 billion education technology bond act, and will propose another $720 million over five years in revenues generated by new casinos to fully fund after-school programs statewide.[9]

There is always a trade-off between efficiency and equality when it comes to policy making. The Mayor’s approach focuses on the idea of efficiency; he suggests that New York City children need pre-K more than upstate children. “By the way, the children we would reach are amongst the poorest in the United States of America, let’s be clear,” said de Blasio.[10]  By taxing approximately 48,000 wealthy residents in New York City, the plan creates a stable and consistent revenue source and funding mechanism without relying on the State budget. Governor Cuomo, however, argues that this plan would potentially divide the State and emphasizes State funding for a statewide pre-K program to ensure all communities in New York receive funding and equitable treatment.  

Polls conducted last week show that voters appear to favor Governor Cuomo’s plan, but questions remain to be answered: is Governor Cuomo’s $1.5 billion enough for implementing the program? What is the real effect of a tax hike on the New York City economy? When the Mayor and the Governor are still bickering over how to pay for UPK, it is important to remember that free, universal, high-quality prekindergarten will result in a stronger New York.  These two leaders in New York must come together to ensure the ultimate plan achieves its objective: that every child and working family in New York deserves a chance at success.

Contributed by Yuan Zhou of the Human Services Council of New York.


[1] Yoshikawa, Hirokazu, “Testimony to the New York City Council, joint hearing of the committees on education and women’s issues, on the city’s proposal for universal high-quality prekindergarten.” February 11, 2014, p2.

[3] The New York City Council, “Resolution supporting the City’s plan to establish high quality universal pre-kindergarten for all eligible four-year olds and a high-quality after school program for middle-school-aged youth.” February 11, 2014. p5.

[4] Id.

[6] The New York City Council, “Resolution supporting the City’s plan to establish high quality universal pre-kindergarten for all eligible four-year olds and a high-quality after school program for middle-school-aged youth.” February 11, 2014. p5.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

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About Human Services Council

The Human Services Council strengthens New York's nonprofit human services sector, ensuring all New Yorkers across diverse neighborhoods, cultures, and generations reach their full potential.
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