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NY Leads the Way in Push for Pre-K and Kids’ Concerns

GRAPHIC: Events starting Thursday and continuing over two weeks around the state will show support for local and federal investment in early childhood care and education, an area in which New York is among the leading states. Graphic courtesy AQE
GRAPHIC: Events starting Thursday and continuing over two weeks around the state will show support for local and federal investment in early childhood care and education, an area in which New York is among the leading states. Graphic courtesy AQE
May 30, 2013

ALBANY, N.Y. - After years of flat spending, New York - with the backing of Gov. Andrew Cuomo - has committed $25 million toward making pre-kindergarten education available to all of the state's children, especially those in high-need districts.

Advocates for early childhood care say that's a good start.

Dovetailing with a national campaign around the Obama administration's plan to invest $75 billion in early education, Empire State advocates are holding rallies and events around the state to whip up support for the efforts in Albany and Washington.

Jasmine Gripper, early childhood campaign coordinator for the Alliance for Quality Education, has firsthand knowledge of the benefits, having been a first-grade teacher the past four years.

"Students who don't have the early learning, the pre-K and the kindergarten, they come into first grade way behind their peers and it's so difficult for them to catch up," she said.

Citing studies that show every $1 invested in quality pre-K saves $7 down the road, advocates say students who attend high-quality pre-K typically experience higher academic achievement, go on to college and secure higher-paying jobs. Resistance, though, comes from lawmakers reluctant to increase government spending.

Peggy Liuzzi, executive director of Child Care Solutions, a nonprofit child-care resource and referral agency in Syracuse, said it can be tough for legislators to call for spending.

"'On my watch, I'm recommending - I'm supporting - expenditures that are going to pay off in 10, 15, 20 years," she said. "It takes some courage to do that, but it's the right thing to do. It's the wise thing to do."

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said he's fully behind the early education push, but he sees the sequestration cuts that are limiting participation in the Head Start program as an immediate problem.

"To have 70,000 fewer children who would have been served by Head Start knowing that they're not going to have access to the program by the end of the year is a very, very horrible outcome," he said.

Helen Blank, director of the National Women's Law Center, welcomes New York's efforts on behalf of early care and education.

"The effort here is critical to jump-start all of this, and there's such a tremendous need that we do need a strong state and federal partnership," she said. "So Gov. Cuomo's interest in expanding pre-K and extending the day - it's all terrific and it'll just all be additive."

The events that make up the "Early Learning Days of Action," will unfold over the next two weeks in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Binghamton, Albany, Long Island and New York City.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY