By JOANIE MARTINEZ & ZINA PASCHAL
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday pushed back at state legislators seeking to block his pre-K school plan as he urged 200 clergy members in Brooklyn to mobilize their congregations to fight for the tax hike on the rich that he favors to fund the measure.
“The vote block is deeply distressing,” said de Blasio at Bethany Baptist Church in Bedford Stuyvesant, referring to the statements by State Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos expressing opposition to a tax hike.
De Blasio and activist Al Sharpton gave the clergy “four Sundays” to make it known to politicians that “the people of the city can get what they richly deserve.”
“If we’re not concerned about the youngest, as they say, the littlest of children, then we’re not really concerned about our futures,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, co-chairwoman of the mayor’s transition team and a member of the Universal Pre-K working group.
The focus of the clash has not about having pre-K but how it would be funded. De Blasio insists on raising taxes for city residents making $500,000 or more a year over five years. Meanwhile Governor Andrew Cuomo counters that the $1.5 billion in funding can come directly from the state budget
“Wouldn’t you rather ensure that all kids have that opportunity to succeed rather than just being concerned about your extra soy latte for the day?” added Austin.
The mayor’s working group for universal pre-K is comprised of experts and leaders in early childhood. The focus of the group is to ensure that along with the mayor’s tax proposal the plan can be implemented by September providing 53,000 children full day universal pre-kindergarten with another 20,000 added by September of 2015.
“If you reach them early you help address any problems before they fester,” said de Blasio as he cited his son Dante’s speech impediment when he was in pre-K.
Because it was “caught in time,” Dante was a leading debater for the Brooklyn Tech debate team, the mayor said.