Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio rolled out an “all-star” brain trust today that will work to implement his ambitious universal pre-kindergarten agenda.
But first, he had to do story time.
“This dragon represents the fiscal challenges that we face,” Mr. de Blasio, hunching his six-foot-five frame on a tiny chair at Harlem’s Northside Center for Childhood Development, told the class of toddlers and reporters clustered on a rainbow-hued carpet
After displaying the picture of the dragon, Mr. de Blasio continued reading aloud from the children’s classic “Where the Wild Things Are,” teaching the kids what words like “gnash” and “rumpus” meant.
This was not the first time Mr. de Blasio held a press event at a childcare center to promote the centerpiece of his policy platform: a tax hike on the city’s wealthiest residents to pay for universal pre-K. While his last Manhattan stop came during the course of the heated campaign, Mr. de Blasio was in Harlem today to unveil his six-person “working group,” a collection of childcare professionals and old allies that would be tasked with making his plan a reality by September 2014.
“This is an all-star team. You could not ask for a stronger group to help us prepare and get the word out,” Mr. de Blasio told the reporters. “We can and will make sure the largest number of kids are served.”
The working group is composed of: Jennifer Jones Austin, Mr. de Blasio’s transition team co-chair; Elba Montalvo, founder and president of the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families; Josh Wallack, a leader at the Children’s Aid Society and Mr. de Blasio’s former legislative director; Sherry Cleary, executive director of the New York City Early Childhood Professional Development Institute; Gail Nayowith, the executive director of SCO Family of Services; and Nancy Kolben, executive director of the Center for Children’s Initiatives.
Their initial efforts are expected to center on developing plans to recruit, train and retain educators, secure space for thousands of additional children and research the best pre-K practices from programs across the country, Mr. de Blasio said. He hopes to grow the city’s pre-K program from 20,000 to 80,000 students.
“This really is about giving every child a right to a good education,” the mayor-elect said. “We have the opportunity right now to achieve this … We are here to stay. We are going to make this work.”
Mr. de Blasio faces several hurdles in his quest to make his ambitions a reality. His tax hike must be approved by the State Legislature, no easy task in an upcoming election year for lawmakers. Funding from the city’s capital budget will also be needed to construct additional classroom space.
Mr. de Blasio conceded priorities would need to be readjusted into the budget to make his plan work, but he emphasized that universal pre-K must be a top priority.
In the coming days and weeks, Mr. de Blasio is also planning a coordinated campaign to help pass his plan in Albany. He has revealed few details so far about that push.
“We have the political grounding, the political support to make this happen,” he explained. “It was the central, the number one initiative that I put forward in my campaign and I won with 73 percent of the vote, a pretty unprecedented mandate.”
Update (5:43 p.m.): Here is video of Mr. de Blasio reading to the children, via NYTrue.com: