Bill de Blasio Both Denies and Defends Pre-K Benefiting the Better-Off

Bill de Blasio said universal pre-kindergarten "lifts all boats" even as he disputed claims the well-to-do are making the most use of it.

Bill de Blasio talking with pre-K students. (Photo: Seth Wenig-Pool for Getty Images)
Bill de Blasio talking with pre-K students. (Photo: Seth Wenig-Pool for Getty Images)

In a taped interview aired on the eve of the first day of school, Mayor Bill de Blasio" class="company-link">Bill de Blasio disputed a study that found his administration had provided more pre-kindergarten seats in affluent neighborhoods than in poorer ones—but also argued that middle- and upper-middle-class families are entitled to the program, too.

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Appearing on NPR’s All Things Considered to tout his flagship initiative, Mr. de Blasio ripped the findings of University of California at Berkeley Professor Bruce Fuller, who determined that just 30 percent of the pre-K seats created were in the city’s poorest school districts—even though those areas have a disproportionate number of young children. Mr. Fuller also asserted that nearly half of the children enrolled last year in the taxpayer-funded full-day program had previously been attending private learning centers, leading the professor to conclude the mayor’s administration was “tilting the city’s preschool system toward middling and affluent communities.”

“That study is deeply flawed, and I have to tell you, a truly universal program, which we’ve created, is giving much more opportunity to folks in low-income neighborhoods than they’ve ever had before,” the mayor told host Robert Siegel, pointing out that the number of public pre-kindergarten seats had expanded from 20,000 to 65,000 during his tenure.

The city has admitted that participation rates are higher among the city’s more affluent families, which Mr. de Blasio argued is a result of longstanding arrangements in low-income communities where family members or neighbors would babysit preschool-age kids. He added that poorer families are simply unaccustomed to having the opportunity for their children to attend pre-kindergarten.

“That’s understandable if you don’t have any other option,” Mr. de Blasio said, vowing his Department of Education would continue outreach efforts. “It takes time to convince them it will work.”

Even as he boasted about the anti-inequality aspects of the program, the mayor argued it had across-the-board benefits, and argued that even moderately well-to-do families deserve publicly paid for preschool.

“I’ve talked to a lot of middle class, and even upper-middle-class parents who are benefiting from this program, and I think they have a right to it as well,” he said. “And the fact it’s universal, I believe, actually lifts all boats. And I think even for middle class families, a lot of middle class families in this town are stretched economically. This is the kind of benefit they deserve for their children, but also for their household budgets.”

The mayor imagined that in the future, pre-kindergarten would be not just universally available but compulsory.

“I think that is the way of the future,” he said. “I think there’s a great sense here that something very special is happening where we can take a whole school system of kids—every background, every neighborhood—and get them all on a strong start at the same time.”

Bill de Blasio Both Denies and Defends Pre-K Benefiting the Better-Off