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Grassroots Bulletin

February Newsletter

One Goal, Two Approaches to Pre-Kindergarten Education    


Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have presented separate plans for funding universal pre-kindergarten. Cuomo, facing re-election in November, has offered up a slice of his 2014-2015 budget to fund statewide universal pre-k while de Blasio continues to push his own campaign initiative of funding city-wide pre-k. As both leaders emphasize the importance of universal pre-k programs, they have very different approaches on implementation.

Cuomo’s Universal Pre-K Plan
Cuomo has estimated that for the first time since 2008, the state has a surplus of $500 million this year and up to $2 billion by 2017. Cuomo wants to use a large portion of that money for tax cuts, and to pay for pre-kindergarten statewide. 

Cuomo intends to call for $1.5 billion in state spending over five years to make pre-k available in every corner of the state, working with local school districts to develop an implementation schedule. The state will move to provide support as fast as districts can move to implement the plan. Charter schools will also be eligible for pre-k funding.  As part of his universal pre-k proposal, Cuomo wants to separately fund the addition of pre-k classroom space through a $2 billion education technology bond act which would be put before voters in November.

De Blasio’s Universal Pre-K Plan
Mayor de Blasio’s plan includes an increase on income tax for New York City’s highest earners, those making over $500,000. The tax rate would go from 3.86 percent to 4.41 percent. De Blasio sees it as the only steady, reliable way to pay for universal pre-k for all 4-year-olds and to fund after-school programs for all middle school students. The tax would expire after five years.

De Blaiso says the five-year tax increase would yield $530 million in new revenue, which would help pre-k programs reach 53,000 children by September 2014 and up to 73,000 by the next year.

According to rhe Mayor, full-day pre-k would reach all 4-year-olds by using half the almost 4,000 classrooms identified by officials as “potentially available” within public school buildings, in addition to space provided by community-based organizations that contract with the city Department of Education.

De Blasio has released his overall Plan here:  Pre-K Report

New York Invests in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education    

Recognizing the need to better align education with in-demand jobs in New York, Governor Cuomo is championing an education policy that prepares the next generation of  job candidates with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) backgrounds.

Similarly, Con Edison has played a key role in shaping the curriculum at the new Energy Tech High School in Queens with our partners the New York City Department of Education, CUNY, and LaGuardia Community College. There, students are earning high school diplomas, associate degrees, and gaining important industry training and credentials, all for no charge. “We are confident this partnership will positively change lives and impact generations to come in New York City,” said Aubrey Braz, vice-president, Substation Operations. “We hope to introduce students into the energy field and inspire them.”

In 2011, IBM and the City University of New York (CUNY) launched the NYS P-TECH in Brooklyn. P-TECH’s graduates will receive both their high school diploma and associate’s degrees.

Building on these successes, New York State has increased its commitment to STEM education. Last year, the state helped fund 16 similar public-private partnerships across New York. This year’s executive budget proposes an additional $5 million to help fund  10 more schools in 2014. Additionally the governor’s budget proposal creates the STEM Incentive Program which would provide full tuition scholarships to any SUNY or CUNY school for the top 10 percent of high school graduates pursuing careers in STEM fields who commit to work in New York for five years following graduation.

The state’s STEM initiatives have received nationwide recognition. In October of 2013, President Obama visited NYS P-TECH in Brooklyn and praised these efforts. “Across the country, companies like Verizon and Microsoft, Con Ed and Cisco ... are working with educators in states to replicate what you’re doing here,” President Obama said.   

President Praises Natural Gas in Annual Address 


In his sixth annual State of the Union address, President Obama referred to domestic natural gas production as one of the biggest factors contributing to economic recovery.  Although several environment groups had urged the president to back off of his “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that recognizes the growing use of certain fossil fuels, he maintained course and introduced a handful of new initiatives.

One of the president's more unique proposals was a call for Congress to create “Sustainable Shale Gas Growth Zones” that “can ensure we develop shale gas the right way — and, at the same time, create stable communities with well-paying jobs.”  Although the details have yet to be released, the initiative’s goal is to help states and regions with natural gas resources work together for the greater good.

Obama also spent time focusing on natural gas in the transportation sector. Specifically, he called for converting more trucks and buses to natural gas and a “fuel neutral” tax credit for alternative fuel vehicles.  An additional component of his transportation proposal includes urging Congress to create an Energy Security Trust. The Energy Security Trust would focus on shifting all vehicles from oil to alternative fuels – everything from electricity and biofuels to natural gas and hydrogen. The $2 billion trust would be built from revenues generated from federal leases for oil and gas development.

In addition to transportation, the president would like to see natural gas better leveraged in manufacturing and power generation. The administration will help states and communities coordinate reviews of potential private sector natural gas projects which support domestic manufacturing facilities.

While the majority of the president’s references to natural gas were positive, he also emphasized his commitment to “responsible” development and using natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to renewable energy generation. Furthermore, as originally introduced in the president’s Climate Action Plan, the administration is developing new environmental standards for oil and gas drilling on public lands and will develop a strategy to reduce methane emissions along the natural gas supply chain.

To read a summary of the State of the Union, click here. For the full text of the speech, click here.


An Interview with City Councilmember Donovan Richards

Councilman Donovan Richards Jr. ((D-Queens, 31st District) has spent the last decade fighting to better life for New Yorkers.

Prior to being elected in February 2013, he served in the previous city council administration in every capacity from an intern to district manager. 

Since being elected, his office has hit the ground running facing the enormous challenge of rebuilding his district post Hurricane Sandy, and ensuring that seniors and youths have an opportunity to flourish. His diligence and strong track record as an advocate for his community, won over voters of the 31st district numerous times and led to a recent chairmanship to the Environmental Protection committee in the City Council.

Having been initially elected to finish out the term of former Councilman Sanders, (who went on to the New York Senate) and now being elected outright for his own full term, Councilman Richards shared some thoughts for the upcoming Council term.

Being initially elected to serve out the remainder of former NYC Councilman, and now State Senator James Sanders’ term on the City Council, what was your biggest individual challenge? 
The biggest challenge during my inaugural term was to rebuild and restore the Rockaways after the devastation wrought by Super Storm Sandy. After spending the night of the storm in an emergency shelter and countless subsequent hours spearheading relief efforts, I knew that recovery would take time. Despite the challenges that many faced, Sandy opened the door to bring resources to Rockaways that will be instrumental in revitalizing the peninsula.

What would you say was your biggest accomplishment in 2013?   
I am proud to say that my biggest accomplishment came with the passage of the Sandy Tracking Bill. As the representative for a constituency that was greatly impacted by the storm, I saw firsthand the needs of people attempting to put their lives back together. As aid flowed in from the federal and state government along with private funds from concerned citizens and charitable organizations, I saw that the potential for misappropriation was great.  It was imperative to work with government agencies, private donors, recovery workers, families and my colleagues in the Council to ensure that the needs of this vulnerable population continue to be met.      

What are some goals for this Council term?  
I would like to continue to advocate for the people South East Queens. For too long this community has dealt with intermittent flooding, underutilized business districts, limited access to public transportation to name a few. This term I have been given the opportunity to chair the Environmental Protection Committee and I look forward to addressing many of these issues head on. 

There are a number of freshman Councilmembers as a result of the recent election.  And, of course, we have a new Mayor.  How might this impact how the council and the Mayor go forward this year?
While the face of the council and the mayoral administration may have changed- the need for good, solid leadership of New York City remains the same. Roads still need to be paved, schools need well trained educators and good paying jobs need to be available to those seeking employment. It will be important for the newly elected council and the mayoral administration to remain focused on the needs of a growing and increasingly diverse public so that the city will continue to remain a place where one can thrive.


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