for change: Gov. Eliot Spitzer delivers his policy speech
Back to Pre-School
years of stagnation, New York’s universal prekindergarten
looks to be revived
By the year 2000, New York’s state-supported universal-prekindergarten
program—a plan developed three years prior—had earned national
recognition as a model for early-childhood education. Shortly
thereafter, years of relatively flatline funding followed
by sluggish growth and low student participation caused the
effort to decline into a standstill that has resulted in a
program that has yet to attain its promise of universal availability.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer promised to breathe new life, and dollars,
into the prekindergarten program during a policy speech Monday
at the State Education Building.
of the core features of our new four-year investment plan
will be to establish universal access to quality pre-kindergarten
education,” Spitzer said before he was silenced by rounds
of applause from the standing-room-only audience. “We know
that effective preschool education can help make all children
ready to learn the day they start school, and, more importantly,
can help close the enormous gap facing children in poverty.”
Spitzer pledged to make “quality” prekindergarten programs
“available to every child who needs it within the next four
It’s a promise state residents have heard before. In 1997,
the state’s initial universal prekindergarten plan called
for a four-year phase-in period. During the first year of
the program, 62 participating school districts utilized funding
that totaled about $56 million, a figure that was supposed
to grow to as much as $500 million by the fourth year. Instead,
funding reached less than $300 million today.
Kathy Schimke is a co-convener of Winning Beginning NY, an
advocacy coalition for early-childhood education. She estimated
that approximately 79,000 preschool-age children currently
are enrolled in the state’s programs, which includes both
universal prekindergarten and a smaller, targeted-prekindergarten
program that is specifically designed for disadvantaged children.
If prekindergarten became truly universal, she said, nationwide
trends show that about three-quarters of the total number
of 4-year-olds (about 420,000 in New York) would be enrolled
by their parents.
New York’s universal prekindergarten legislation does not
require communities and school districts to offer prekindergarten,
but rather allows them to choose whether to opt into the program.
Currently about one quarter of the state’s school districts
provide prekindergarten programs, but additional and continually
growing state funding would allow more districts the opportunity
to create their own programs, Schimke said.
Spitzer seemed to be making good on his promise to increase
prekindergarten availability through increased funding Wednesday,
when he announced his first budget proposal. The budget included
an increase of $99 million for universal prekindergarten and
a call for the total sum of state prekindergarten funding
to grow to $645 million by 2010.
fact is that many, many districts through the years have wanted
to provide prekindergarten, but they felt that it was such
an insecure program—the battles every year in the budget and
so forth—and so a lot of schools said ‘I’m not going there
until I can depend on it,’ ” Schimke said. “For school districts,
the worst thing you can do is put something out there for
your kids and then take it away.”
During his campaign, and now as governor, Spitzer has reiterated
the message of proponents of prekindergarten, who note numerous
advantages to preschool programs, including their ability
to better prepare students for traditional school, to minimize
behavioral problems, to reduce rates of teen pregnancy, and
to reduce the demand for welfare and unemployment assistance.
Members of the New York chapter of Fight Crime: Invest in
Kids, which also advocates for universal prekindergarten,
cited the correlation between preschool programs and a reduction
in criminal behavior as reason for their support.
is a program that law enforcement leaders are very, very strongly
in favor of because they know that the best way to prevent
crime is to get kids off to a good start from the beginning
and keep them on track until they become productive, competent
citizens,” said Meredith Wiley, state director of the organization,
which is a coalition of law enforcement leaders and violence
Nearly all states now publicly fund prekindergarten programs
of some sort, and the movement toward universal prekindergarten
is increasing action and debate. In New York and across the
national map, throughout these debates, opposition to prekindergarten
programming has been the exception more than the rule.
Diane Flynn Keith is the founder of UniversalPreschool.com,
an online forum for those who oppose universal preschool programs.
realized that the intention is to promote early education
in young children, which is a good thing,” Keith said, “but,
unfortunately, once the government gets involved there is
accountability for government funds to private hands.” The
need for government accountability could result in states
testing preschool students for performance, she said.
Keith also is concerned that even though prekindergarten programs
are never introduced as mandatory, encouragement for parents
to enroll their children will eventually result in a mandate,
similar to the national movement to require kindergarten.
Finally, Keith points to research that reveals a fade-out
in the difference between students who attended preschool
programs and those who did not after only a couple years.
Appetite, and No High
GW Pharmaceutical Company is developing a new
obesity-fighting drug derived from marijuana.
Although the plant is usually associated with
stimulating appetite, the GW managing director
assures that cannabis has “70 different cannabinoids,”
and that not all of them affect the body that
same way. The drug will include only those components
of cannabis that have been shown to suppress appetite
in tests. GW plans to begin human trials in the
next few months, and expects the drug to be approved
by the FDA before the end of the year. It sounds
like the stuff of pot lovers’ dreams, but it’s
not: THC—Tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive
chemical in marijuana—will be absent from the
death of a Brooklyn man stranded on the Northway
in the Adirondacks has rallied state politicians
to push for cell phone towers along the highway
in the northern part of the state, much of which
is a no-reception zone for cell phones. Sen. Martin
Golden (R-Brooklyn) told the Times Union
he supports a subsidy to make it economically
feasible for cell-phone companies to build towers
in the largely unpopulated area (New York state,
cell-phone companies and environmental groups
have not yet been able to agree on the design
for a tower plan). Alfred Langer, 63, froze to
death after he and his wife went off the road
early Friday morning in below-zero temperatures.
A state trooper found the car 32 hours after it
went off the road. His wife, Barbara Langer, 59,
is currently hospitalized and is expected to fully
Money the YouTube Way
sensation YouTube, which was sold to Google last
year for $1.65 billion, has announced plans to
share its revenue with users. YouTube CEO Chad
Hurley told the World Economic Forum that he felt
it was time to share advertising profits with
users who upload videos to the site. He did not
discolose how payment amounts would be determined,
but more details are expected soon, and the program
is expected to be in place later this year. YouTube
receives approximately 70 million video plays
per day and has led who knows how many users to
believe they are either a rock star or a comedian.
oppose expected rise in state’s campaign-contribution limits,
which are already the highest in nation
Poised to go even higher, the limit on individual campaign
contributions in New York state is “absolutely outrageous,”
said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director of the New York
State League of Women Voters. “Certainly something needs to
The League of Women Voters has joined with Common Cause and
New York Public Interest Research Group to call attention
to the automatic increase, tied to the consumer-price index,
and to hold Gov. Eliot Spitzer to his promise to work to lower
the limit on contributions to state candidates.
Estimates released by the three groups conclude that, without
new legislation, Democratic candidates for statewide office
facing a primary in 2010 will be able to receive up to $55,800
from a single individual. By contrast, the new limit for U.S.
presidential candidates is only $4,600 from an individual—$2,300
for a primary and another $2,300 for the general election.
New York currently has the highest contribution limits of
any state that sets such limits. Gov. Spitzer said in a speech
in early January that he plans to “replace the weakest campaign-finance
laws in the nation with the strongest.”
is one of the things he campaigned on,” said Bartoletti. “This
is part of his reform agenda. We do certainly maintain confidence
that the governor said what he meant and meant what he said.
We feel not only confident in the governor but in the Legislature
also. If they are going to consider themselves reformers,
which everyone has over the last several years wanted to claim
that they are, then certainly this is an area they need to
clean up, and clean up thoroughly.”
Rachel Leon, executive director of New York’s branch of Common
Cause, agreed. “We need to see a strong proposal from the
governor, and then an agreement from the Legislature to dramatically
lower the contribution limits,” she said. “It’s definitely
a goal that [Spitzer] has articulated. Now it’s time for the
Legislature to act.”
The groups are also calling on Spitzer and the state Legislature
to close loopholes in the law. Limited-liability companies
are considered an individual as far as contribution limits
are concerned, and loopholes allow smaller corporations owned
by a single large corporation to each have its own limit.
Many other loopholes exist.
law is already more loophole than law,” said Leon.
The eventual goal of the groups is for public funding of state
elections. “We see it as a long-term goal,” said Bartoletti.
“This governor has said that it is his ultimate goal. So we
certainly intend to hold him to that promise.”
The formula used to determine the contribution limit is one-half
cent for each voter enrolled in a party, to a cap. Because
the Republican Party is at neither the cap nor the baseline,
it will not see a change in statewide primary election limits.
The limits are shifted every four years in accordance with
the consumer-price index, which rose 11.6 percent between
December 2002 and December 2006. Leon questions the message
you look at an issue like minimum wage—that’s not indexed
to inflation. We have the highest limits of any state that
has limits, and they get indexed to inflation, and we have
minimum wage workers who don’t get indexed to inflation. So
what kind of message are we sending about our democracy?”
Official contribution limits are expected to be released by
the State Board of Elections today (Thursday, Feb. 1).
plans raise old concerns that the proposed site is contaminated
Albany Common Councilman Mich-ael O’Brien (Ward 12) says he
doesn’t think Brighter Choice’s plan to build a charter school
on the lot at 60 Colvin Ave. in Albany is a good one. Why?
According to O’Brien, the last time people tried to build
a school in that location they found a number of carcinogens
and toxic metals.
2001, when the school district was doing its ground explorations,
they discovered hazardous materials,” O’Brien claimed. “They
found some real nasty stuff there. They found it both on 60
Colvin and at the edge of Westland Hills Park.”
But Christian Bender, CEO of Brighter Choice, insists that
the contaminated land that O’Brien is referring to is not
part of the 60 Colvin Ave. property.
is confused,” said Bender of O’Brien. “We have done a thorough
environmental study on that site. It is contiguous to a site
that is questionable, but the land that he is referring to
is actually further into the park. The site we are looking
to develop is not part of the park. I believe he is talking
about land that is in the park.” Documents show that the contamination
was discovered near, if not on, the proposed 60 Colvin Ave.
In 2001, the city of Albany had a plan to build a middle school
at 60 Colvin Ave. During the approval process, citizens began
raising concerns about environmental pollution and possible
asbestos at the site, which had once been a scrapyard. After
taking soil samples, Clough Harbor and Associates discovered
that a plot of soil about 100 feet wide, 250 feet long and
9 feet deep was contaminated with a number of carcinogens.
The contaminated area that is located in the Westland Hills
Park also turned up higher-than-normal readings of elements
including barium, lead, and mercury. Eventually, the Albany
School District’s plan was scrapped.
60 Colvin Ave. site that Brighter Choice wants to put its
charter school on is similar to a site that the school district
was going to build on years ago and declined to do,” says
O’Brien. “What I found interesting, was when the school district
was looking at it, they did testing and found nasty stuff—zinc,
lead, arsenic. Brighter Choice submitted a plan, and it is
really curious that they are totally silent about stuff that
was found before. They only say they found trace amounts of
methochloride. So where did the rest of it go?”
O’Brien said that whether the contamination is under the school
lot or near it, he thinks there should be concern, and that
a thorough State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) should
be undertaken to ensure that there is no major contamination
before the project is approved. Asked whether he was concerned
about building a school next to a site that has been found
to have been contaminated, Bender noted that the scope of
the contamination in the park had yet to be fully assessed.
levels of contamination have yet to be really, fully fleshed
out,” he said. “Contamination could be anything from a small
amount of petroleum to something much more ominous. And I
don’t think anyone really knows what it amounts to. We do
know from title work from around there that there was a scrap
yard there, and, I mean, I don’t think it is inconsistent
with a lot of scrapyards.”
O’Brien said he thinks Brighter Choice ordered studies that
were superficial so that they could quickly push through approval
for the site. “In August, Brighter Choice filed an application
with the zoning board, and it was really terse on the whole
check-off about the environmental stuff. It was checked off,
‘no, no, no, not needed.’ ”
Bender insists the last thing he is doing is trying to rush
to build on a contaminated area. “We are not approved yet.
We haven’t made a final determination. We will take all that
into consideration before we make a final decision. We have
environmental engineers to answer those questions about that
site that we intend to buy. But there is nothing on the site.
We had the engineers go back after he [O’Brien] first raised
the concern. We have no interest in building a school on a
Joe Cuniff, of the Upper Washington Avenue Neighborhood Association,
said that the process feels rushed to him, with or without
talk about contamination. Cuniff worried that the planned
school will clog an already busy traffic area, and will see
the children from the school crowding into the nearby public
park for recreation. Cuniff insists a full SEQR should be
completed so that a school isn’t built only to have the students
“sitting on top of a pile of pollution, pretending it is not
Cuniff and O’Brien insisted that the community needs more
than a notice from the zoning board, and two minutes to speak
at the public meeting, to come to terms with a new school
in their area. Residents of the South End and Common Councilman
Dominick Calosolaro (Ward 1) recently spoke out about their
frustrations over Brighter Choice’s plan to build a school
in their neighborhood.
are upset that no one came to them ahead of time,” said Calsolaro.
“No one is sure what the plans are. They didn’t have that
ahead of time and that’s disturbing to people who have been
living for 10 to 20 years in the same house and all of a sudden
there is a new proposal to disrupt your lives.”
Bender, however, insisted that Brighter Choice has gone about
both applications in a proper fashion.
are operating within requirements of the city. They are not
receptive to change. It is something that is very difficult.
I just ask them to keep an open mind. It is the eighth project
we have done in the city. We have consistently addressed concerns
that came up.”
almost makes this humorous,” noted O’Brien, is that the city
of Albany is currently looking into applying for a $400,000
grant from the Department of Environmental Conservation to
clean up the contamination found in Westland Hills Park, some
of which he said spills over onto 60 Colvin Ave.
Calls to the planning board were not returned in time for
loose ends this week-