Abbate predicts state will find way to fund universal pre-k classes

Assemblyman Peter Abbate, a lawmaker with nearly three decades of experience in Albany, predicted that Mayor Bill de Blasio will get his wish for state funding for universal pre-kindergarten classes for New York City’s four-year-old children.

“Yes, I think we will get universal pre-k,” Abbate told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Abbate supports the mayor’s controversial plan to raise taxes on those making $500,000 a year or more to pay for a citywide program. “I believe in lower taxes, but I don’t believe in cutting off funding for important programs,” he said. “It’s a funny thing about that tax increase idea. You don’t hear too many complaints from people making $500,000 a year, who would have to pay the tax,” Abbate said. “You hear Republicans and Conservatives complaining about how millionaires will have to pay the tax. But you don’t hear complaints from the millionaires themselves."

Pre-k classes are at the center of a political dispute between de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The governor’s budget plan does include funding for universal pre-k, but the Cuomo plan, which calls for $1.5 billion over five years and does not include a tax hike, was quickly dismissed by de Blasio on the grounds that it is not enough money.

Abbate said he agrees with de Blasio. “The governor proposed some funding, but it doesn’t look like it will be enough. The idea is to not only get pre-k but to make it sustainable. You can’t put it in and then a few years from now when you don’t have the money, pull the plug on it,” Abbate said.

Abbate (D-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), who was first elected to the state assembly in 1986, has seen many funding fights in Albany over the years.

But Abbate said people are looking at the pre-k issue backwards.

Instead of focusing on how much money it is going to cost, the state should first decide if it is a necessary program, he said. “We should be saying, ‘It’s an important and necessary program,’ and be committed to that idea. Once we establish that we really want it, then we can take the next step and figure out how to pay for it,” he said.

“Everyone realizes how important early childhood education is,” Abbate said, adding that if the state commits itself to the goal of universal pre-k, it can become a reality.

He pointed to School District 20 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-parts of Bensonhurst), where universal pre-k classes were established more than 20 years ago with funding from then-state senator Christopher Mega, state assembly members, and council members. The lawmakers contributed portions of their discretionary funding toward the pre-k program.

“District 20 has always been a leader in pre-k. For a long time we’ve had it because we decided it was important and that we needed to fund it,” he said.

Lawmakers saw the results almost immediately, Abbate said. “You would go around to all of the schools and as soon as you walked in, parents and principals would come up to you and thank you,” he said.