By Tim Branfalt
ALBANY, New York, March 4 New York City Mayor
Bill de Blasio put on a show of force in the state capital
Albany on Tuesday to persuade lawmakers to adopt his plan for
universal preschool funded by tax hikes.
In a sign of his growing impatience with the plan, New York
state Governor Andrew Cuomo defended his turf at an opposing
rally that criticized the mayor's stance on charter schools.
De Blasio insists he needs to increase taxes on high-earning
city residents to raise $530 million over the next five years
for universal pre-K, something for which he needs state
Cuomo, who has committed to cutting taxes, has set aside
$300 million over the next two years to fund pre-school
programs. Rather than accept that, De Blasio is building a grass
roots movement to push for the tax hike on earners making over
$500,000. That has put him on a direct collision course with
Cuomo, who faces reelection in November.
"They say it's cold out here, but I don't feel cold, I feel
hot! I feel fired up!, Cuomo told an enthusiastic crowd in minus
9 degree Celsius temperatures (15 Fahrenheit). "The education
industry has said the same thing for decades: more money, and
more money, and more money, and it will change. We spend more
money per pupil than any state in the nation; we're number 32 in
Cuomo and de Blasio, both Democrats, have political personas
that resonate well beyond New York. Cuomo is seen a potential
presidential candidate in 2016. De Blasio, New York's first
Democrat mayor in 20 years, has drawn attention for the large
support base he has mustered behind his progressive platform.
"Clearly there is a conflict and Cuomo specifically went to
that rally and was 'hot' and 'fired up'," said Douglas Muzzio, a
specialist in New York politics at the City University of New
York. "He is staking out political turf there that is very
different from what the mayor wants."
Cuomo said 11,000 people attended the Parents Rally
organized by Charters Work. Supporters of charter schools,
public schools that operate outside the city's department of
education, are upset with de Blasio's decision to block three
charter schools from using space inside public schools.
Public education is a divisive issue that impacts the lives
of millions of New Yorkers. Competition to get students into
charter schools or the best public schools is fierce with many
parents seeing it as a make or break issue for their children.
Nathan Buck from Harlem attended the rally because his son,
a first grader, goes to Success Academy Five, a local charter
school where he won a place in a blind lottery.
"There is a misconception that charter schools are private
schools and they are, in fact, public schools," said Buck.
De Blasio insists it is wrong to confuse charter schools
with the issue of universal pre-school. At his event around
1,500 activist parents sent emails and letters to lawmakers,
listened to speeches and met with state politicians.
Ruth Arsenec, a single mother from Staten Island, who made
the trip to Albany to support de Blasio's plan, is trying to get
her three-year old son into pre-school next September but is not
sure if she will be able to find a place for him.
"I am hoping that he will get in," said Arsenec, who became
aware of the benefits of pre-school education after her
daughter, now five, passed through a pre-school program. "It was
just completely astonishing to me to see how she developed and