Our greatest strength in New York City has always been our workforce—among the most productive in the world. But the jobs of tomorrow will require more skills and education, and we have to get serious about what it will take to prepare our kids to fill them.
Right now, of the 68,000 four-year-olds in New York City that should receive full-time pre-kindergarten, only 20,000 get it. Too many kids are wasting formative years when they should be absorbing new words, skills and habits. Fixing this calls for a new strategy where kids start learning sooner and keep learning longer. Every child deserves the right start—and our economic future depends on it.
I have proposed a plan to make pre-K universal for all four-year-olds, for the first time in New York City. This wouldn’t just apply to a few hundred kids lucky enough to make the cut. My plan would include every child.
We also need to innovate ways to keep our kids learning after 3 p.m. Kids across the country — and around the world — are spending up to 300 more hours learning than those in New York City.
We need to dramatically expand the number of kids with access to this kind of opportunity. I’ve called for a new city-funded grant program to allow middle schools to work with experienced community groups to establish new learning time between 3 and 6 p.m. All told, we’ll fund spaces for two-thirds of all middle school students—one of the greatest after-school expansions in city history.
These two major investments are critical to our kids’ future and our city’s economy, but they will need financial support to get off the ground.
I believe there is a fair way to do this. The plan I’ve proposed includes a five-year surcharge on incomes over $500,000 to fund these initiatives. That gives us five years to backstop these revenues by finding inefficiencies in government agencies and reducing costs in pensions and healthcare obligations.
If we make those choices right, they will build the middle class and grow jobs throughout the city. We can show people a pathway to greater opportunity for their children, which is so desperately needed for them and for our shared economic prosperity.
This is who we have always been as a city. And if we stay true to our values, we can remain the most creative, the most dynamic, and the best place to live to achieve the American Dream.
Bill de Blasio is New York City public advocate.