- Stronger Communities
- Economic Growth
New York City’s economic future depends on having one of the best-trained, best-educated workforces in the world. Laying a strong educational foundation and building on it over time are critical to staying competitive and restoring the middle class.
There is growing consensus that beginning a child’s education before kindergarten and finding ways to extend learning time after the school day ends are the surest paths to unlocking higher achievement and potential for our young people. But even as our competitors are investing in these innovations, New York City has lagged behind, lacking a comprehensive strategy to expand learning opportunities.
Watch Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's remarks delivered at the Association for a Better New York event on October 4, 2012:
Full transcript of remarks as delivered:
Bill, I want to thank you and your extraordinary family for all you have done for our city. I had the pleasure of speaking in July, At NYU at the Wagner School the Rudin Family Forum. Everywhere I go, I find the Rudin Family doing something good for this city and I thank you.
And ABNY has played, for decades, a crucial role in this city as a meeting place for people of all different views and all different sectors, as a place where we come together to get things done and to improve our city, obviously starting with what ABNY did during the fiscal crisis to bring us back. I think ABNY is really one of the consciences of this city and I thank ABNY for all of you.
And speaking of consciences, let me formally now introduce mine, and I will introduce her with a quick story. Bill mentioned that I worked in City Hall, and one day in 1991, I was minding my own business –this is how all good stories begin – and a vision of beauty glided toward me in the middle of my busy work day. And if you doubt that there is love at first sight, I assure you it does exist. The thunderbolt struck me. But for Chirlane, it took many, many months for the thunderbolt to arrive. She finally agreed to go on a date with me, and as I said, she is my conscience, and my inspiration, and my wife of 18 years, Chirlane McCray.
Now I’ll start by referencing what I think is one of the most powerful public moments of 2012. I happened to be in the Time Warner Center, in Charlotte, on the night of September 5th when Bill Clinton gave his speech. I thought it was really one of the extraordinary moments in recent public discourse. I not only appreciated the argument he laid out, and I appreciated the way that he combined what he had done to the work that President Obama is doing now. I think like many Americans, I got from that speech a sense of clarity, a sense of hope, a sense of a direction we need to go in. For me, it was also very personal. As Bill mentioned, I served under President Clinton and his administration. I had the great honor in working with the then-first lady on her first campaign. So I felt a personal appreciation, a personal connection, but I also felt that summarized something philosophically crucial in how we have to approach the times we’re in.
And at NYU I said this, a few months back, and I say it many places: we’re in a structurally different time, a structurally different economic moment than most of us have known throughout our lives. That demands a different approach.
In the speech, one brief section from that speech I think summarizes it beautifully: the president said, “We think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks who work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly share prosperity. You see, we believe, that ‘we’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘you’re on your own’.”
The President, PresidentClinton, I think expanded in that speech upon something else he did, which is very striking, I don’t think it got the attention it deserved, but the book he wrote last year Back to Work. Which I think is a tremendous analysis and prescription for where we need to go economically. I think this is true for cities and states and the federal government equally.
But he said in that book, one quick section, he said “Policy failures over the years have given us anemic, increasingly unequal economy, with too few jobs and stagnant incomes and put us at a competitive disadvantage compared to other nations,” and he called for a “focus on what role the government must play in America’s renewal.” Now the President said government and he didn’t just say federal government. You’ll remember that his original milieu was his experiences in his hometown famously, talked about for years, and his work as Governor of Arkansas. So, his analysis in regards to the role that government at all levels must play in restarting this economy, making it more equal, creating real lasting prosperity, and that pathway to the middle class-- which has been allusive lately.
When I spoke at NYU in July, I tried to lay out some of the things I think we need to do as a city, playing off of this same kind of philosophy. I think we can have an increasingly strong middle class, I think we can have the most innovative private sector in the world; that’s been New York’s tradition. And I think we can have shared prosperity, shared prosperity that reaches across all five boroughs, every type of neighborhood.
You may be thinking “well, some of the factors are beyond our control on a national and international context.” That may be true, but New York has a unique capacity to shape its own destiny because of all that we bring to the table in both our public and private sector. Some of the tools, I think, and I mentioned this at NYU, are crucial to spurring growth, very briefly: We have to rethink and retool our development process. I’ve heard from developers big and small throughout the city that the slowness and lack of predictability in the process is what is fundamentally undermining job creation and progress. I think that is an artificial dynamic that we can overcome with a reliable system for making land use decisions more quickly. I think that will also help us get to the community benefits we need more quickly.
I think we need to lessen the burden of needless fines on our small business. It’s been in my view, a dynamic in this city, in recent years, that we treat small business as a revenue source rather than a job creation partner. I think we are making that mistake particularly when it comes to our immigrant small businesses. We can do much better on that front.
I think we have to leverage the assets we have. I’ve talked before about our pension system. 120 billion dollars that I don’t think we are using as particularly as we could. Only 1% of our pension investments are spurring on economic growth here in New York City. I think that’s a mistake. Other states and cities are doing better. We need to get to a more strategic and assertive place when it comes to using our pension investments. And equally our procurement process, our contracting process so we can have sustainable growth here.
Finally the other thing I talked about at NYU, better preparing our workforce, here and now and for the future by actually making our career and technical education system align to the jobs that are available and the sectors that are growing and connecting those schools to actual businesses. It’s an area where we’ve had a few shining star examples.
But not enough, not enough deep connections between the business community and our schools.
These are things we need to do - we need to do them now. Some of them will cost us money, some of them will save us money, some of them are revenue neutral.
But they’re the kind of things that we need to do assertively to create economic growth that really reaches the whole city.
That’s some of what I talked about - the here and now - but what we’re facing, as I said, is structural. Its deeper and there are some longer term things we have to do to change the dynamic. Just let me give you some of the statistics and the reality we’re facing.
Today 9.7 percent unemployment in the city - that’s a staggeringly high figure, an unacceptable figure talk about. Brooklyn is 11% and Bronx is 14%. That’s not sustainable. We have to do something differently if we want to address that. We have to recognize more fully the kind of global competition we are up against. It used to be we talked about competing with New Jersey and Connecticut.Now it’s national - LA, Boston, Chicago; it’s international, it’s London, it’s Singapore it’s Shanghai. It’s a different world and we have to be more agile and strategic.
Our competitors are doing just what Bill Clinton talked about.
Our competitors are thinking all the time about how their governments on all levels can help them sustain economic growth and can help spur private sector activity.
I don’t think we as a country or we as a city are doing enough of that.
Now, what should the city be focused on, for the long term? Let me use one statistic I think summarizes the challenge.
According to the United States Department of Education, 60% of the jobs in the 21st century will require skills possessed by only 20% of the American work force at this point.
That’s the problem. We’re not building the skillset for the jobs ahead and the economic reality ahead.
New York City has always had the most educated and productive workforce, but we’re not taking the steps now to sustain that historical reality.
So what we have to do is say, “what will it take to get our education system to focus on the goal of every child being either ready to go to college or being ready to go productively straight into the workforce?”.
And I said some of that will be about connecting schools to business more thoroughly than doing today but some of it will be about making strategic longer term investments.
Let’s face it: we’re in a city with deeply entrenched educational disparities. Some kids have a chance and prevail throughout life, some kids are not given that full chance.
And we just can’t succeed as a city if that reality continues; it’s not what we believe in. I know a lot of people in this room; it’s not what we philosophically want.
We want opportunity for all. But this is not just about ideals, this is about economic reality. This is about aligning our education system to the economy that is moving rapidly and securing our economic future.
You look around the country, you look around the world, our competitors have gotten that message. And here’s what they say when it comes to education,“start learning sooner, keep learning longer.” That’s what we see around the country and around the world, so what I think we need is a serious investment in making our education system truly prepare our kids for the modern economy. I don’t think you can do that through pilots and one-offs. I don’t think we’re talking about minimal remediation; we’re talking about foundationally changing the approach.
By the way, as a tax payer myself, we’re talking about putting money where it would have the biggest impact. We’re talking about strategic investments that every citizen and every taxpayer can see have a lasting powerful effect.
It’s also what our parents need. You know Chirlane and I have brought up two kids in this city, and we know what parents all over the city are struggling with. And the modern economy is making it harder. The stresses of parenting are harder than ever; people are struggling to get the income they used to be able to get more easily just a few years ago. The parenting equation is harder than ever. If you want the economy to work you have to make sure that the parenting can work as well. So what we need is a more fundamental transformation of our approach, particularly the early years of education, andwe have to make it universal. It can’t be some kids are lucky enough to get it and others are not. Again I say that as a parent of two kids who went through our public school system and having talked to thousands of parents around the city about their reality.
So what am I calling for today? I’m calling for a new comprehensive early education system, that serves every four year old in New York City; and I’m calling for a major expansion of afterschool academics and enrichment in our middle schools – that sensitive middle school level – that helps solidify the skills of our kids so that we’ll be ready for that economic future .I think this is something we have to do together, so we are really ready for the 21st century.
Now let’s first talk about early education. I was very involved in this issue with the City Council and for some years we were actually making progress with quality child care and expanding teaching child care to more and more kids in the city. And then we started going in the wrong direction. Again, this is not just a discussion of fairness or how we address inequality. This is a very economic discussion. Because we’ve seen time and time again that this is where our education dollars have the biggest impact. And that in fact, if we keep investing too late in the process, we are actually using money in a way that is not fair to ourselves, our children and our taxpayers.
Now let me give you a sense of what the competition is doing, I think it’s pretty stark: the Center for American Progress the Center for the Next Generation reported in August by 2020 China will enroll 40 million children in pre-school, a 50% increase from today and they’ll provide 70% of children with three years of pre-school. By 2020, India will more than double the percentage of children entering school ready to learn, and then by 2018 or by 2030 it will go even higher. In the United States, 60% of kindergarteners come in lacking basic skills like counting to 10 and recognizing letters of the alphabet. The competition knows what it takes. We as a country, we as a state, we as a city have to do better.
In the Times, a few months ago, Charles Blow looked at these kind of numbers. This is what he said: “We’re cutting back while our children’s future competitors are plowing ahead. We don’t have any time or students to waste. Every child in this country must be equipped to perform. The country’s future financial stability depends on it.” And the future depends – in my view – on making sure 100 percent of our children have early education opportunityies.
Some people in this room, very smart, civically engaged room full of people. A lot of people know how to count well. So you’re going to say, “Is this a good investment?” Let me quote Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, from this July: “Economically speaking, early childhood programs are a good investment. With inflation adjusted, annual rates of return on the funds dedicated to these programs are estimated to reach 10 percent or higher. Very few alternative investments can promise that kind of return.”
So what am I saying? Specifically, we have about 68,000 kids now who are our ‘universe’ _____ but that’s about the number that are going into kindergarten now. That’s far from the number who are getting the kind of pre-k education they need. Right now in this city, only 20,000 kids get full-time early education through pre-k. Thirty eight thousand have part-time – that’s three hours a day – on a schedule that does not work for parents or for the modern economy. And doesn’t give kids what they need. There’s about 10,000 kids, who don’t get pre-k, who need it in this city. So when you add up the 10,000 who don’t get it, and the 38,000 who only get three hours a day, we have 50,000 kids being underserved. That’s our future leadership, and that’s our future work stock – workforce – and we’re not preparing them.
By the way, when I say our competitors are moving forward on this front – in this city, since 2008, we have cut, in total, 9,000 – so the net – 9,000 quality childcare and early education seats since 2008. So we have actually gone backwards while our competitors are going forward.
How do we get to that 100 percent concept? How do we get to a point where when a child turns 4 years old in New York City – unless they are going to a private program or their family decides they need to stay at home – how do we get to that point, where they are plugged in to an education system that gets them learning from the very beginning? Because I assure you, they are ready to learn at a more sophisticated level when they get to 4 years old. What we have to do is get all 68,000 kids in that universe to full-time pre-k. We can’t have part-time seats anymore. We can’t have kids on wait lists. We have to get all 68,000 served, if we want to lay a foundation for our future.
Thank you. So that’s the first transition – when a child goes from family into formal learning. That is the single most crucial transition. That’s what we have to do better. The second transition I want to speak about – every parent can relate to this challenge – is middle school. Middle school has been that difficult, often dangerous time in a child’s life, they’re betwixt and between, they leave their family more, they leave their neighborhood more. The bad influences start to surround them. It’s a time when our young people are either going to solidify the correct path and deepen their learning, or it’s a time when they start to slip into the wrong path. And it’s a time when class sizes start to go up, and they get less personal attention. Chirlane and I can tell you many a story, of when our children started at M.S. 51 Brooklyn, the various emotional challenges we faced and many other parents faced. It’s a tough time in a kid’s life. 11, 12, 13, 14 years old – in that range. When I was a school board member in Brooklyn, I gotta tell you, I heard nothing more strongly from parents, than the concern that middle schools start to work better, and their kids come out of good elementary schools and have the chance to keep going and keep building.
Well, when you look at the national debate, it’s pretty clear where we need to go. We need to extend learning time, in one form or another. There are different attitudes out there of how to do it. There’s not a lot of debate on the need to do something better and something more. Now, in New York City, it’s clear. A lot of schools, most schools, end around 3 p.m. It’s that 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. reality that we care about. That’s when we have a chance to really amplify learning, and it’s when – bluntly – a lot of kids get in trouble if they don’t have that good alternative. So if we want to be smart about where to put our strategic investment, it’s right in that 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. time.
We have the greatest model we can possibly ask for of how to do it right here in this city: The After School Corporation. Many of you know it well. The After School Corporation does something very smart: links with community-based organizations, extends the school day in a variety of manners. Let me give an example. Thurgood Marshal Middle School in Harlem, they partner with the Abyssinian Baptist Church to make sure their kids get enrichment in the hours after school ends. We’ve got 180 kids in that middle school, 135 are participating in these enrichment activities. Because they want them. Their parents want them. They want that opportunity. This means, in the case of Thurgood Marshall, over 300 hours of additional academic enrichment each year – which is a profound difference-maker. But here’s the bad news. That model – it’s a tremendous model – it’s only in five schools. Thurgood Marshall is one of only two middle schools to get it. So, we know it works, but we’re not investing in it – even though it would be a profound difference-maker for our city.
Now I’ll shock you by praising something in this area, on this topic, that Mitt Romney did. This is the only nice thing I’ll say about Mitt Romney today. Massachusetts, in 2005, actually pioneered extended learning time. That point started with about 20 schools and built out from there. And a study of those initial schools in 2008 shows, that the young people in extended learning time doubled their proficiency in math and English scores, quadrupled their science scores. So we know the models that work, but we’re not applying them citywide. Right now, it’s catch it as you can. Some parents find it, some don’t. Some kids get it, some don’t. That’s not where we need to be. So I’m proposing that the city take The After School Corporation model, and provide grants to schools that work with local community-based organizations, to build out this extended time, create an after school that truly enriches and strengthens their children academically.
We would award up to a one million dollar grant per each school – they have to show us they have a viable partner and plan, of course – and we would help them to build out that timing of the day through it. This approach could reach up to two-thirds of our middle school students, including many who are not being served in any way right now. And we would stop the fallacy of the school day ending at 3 o’clock for those who need more.
So, when you add that together, the early education piece and the middle school piece, if we had the courage to do this – if we were able to build this consensus to move forward – here’s what we get. For the first time in New York City history, pre-k for 4-year-olds would be truly universal. There is no greater misnomer in the world than the words, “universal pre-K” in this city. I see Robert Jackson nodding. It’s not universal if everyone can’t get it. It’s not universal if you don’t get enough hours. We’ll take a maze of different programs, and we’d coordinate them into one clear path. We would build out after school and that extended time, working with a model we know that works, and we’d have kids ready to learn at the beginning – ready to keep learning – and supported through these crucial transitions, so they are able to learn throughout their educational careers.
Now, this is an investment. It costs money. What would it cost? It would cost about $291 million dollars to provide pre-k to every 4-year-old, with an additional about $50 million for leasing of space and other related expenses. It would take about $190 million to play out this extended learning time approach over the number of schools we’re talking about. There would also, of course, be capital costs. But those can be accommodated – that is a matter of what we prioritize. And in my view, this is the most fundamental thing we could prioritize.
The framework I would use to find these resources, well, it would have to be fair and progressive. It would have to be targeted to this purpose only. A lot of us in this room have seen the government ask for revenue and there’s a little bit of three-card Monty and slight-of-hand. That is not acceptable to the taxpayers, that is not acceptable to the business community. But a targeted revenue stream that actually is used for what it supposed to be used for, I have found a lot of reasonable people agree that’s the kind of approach that works and that’s what we need if we want to move forward. the idea would mean not to build more bureaucracy, but to build the middle class, to give the kids the kind of educational foundation they need to truly move forward.
And further, revenue needs to be based on a delineated time frame. It can’t be anything open ended. It’s a mission we go on and then we find other revenue of other types to replace it, through the kinds of cost savings we need to make and the DOE and other agencies, and through some of the challenges that we’re going to have going forward that we have to discuss with the city. We have to lower our public sector health care costs, we have to address and lower our pension costs, we need to find some of the programs that aren’t working and eliminate them or cut them back. These are the kind of things we’re going to have to do over the coming years, and we have to do them collaboratively with our municipal work force and with leaders across the city. But I am urging that in the first instance we bring in the revenue to get this kind of aggressive program started and then build out those other cost savings behind it.
Now, some of you may be thinking that this is an interesting place to come and make this proposal. You might say, “you have come to the lion’s den.”
Well, I think it’s a room full of people who care about New York City.
I think it is a room full of people who know our educational status quo is unacceptable.
And I also think it’s a room full of people that know what a smart and strategic investment looks like and this is the kind we need.
The mechanism will be this: a five year surcharge on household incomes above $500,000 – specifically again targeted only for early education and expanded learning time programs – would generate according to the IBO – the Independent Budget Office – about $532 million a year. Again, over 5 years. We’d be asking people who have done well, who worked hard and did well, to contribute a little more to make this happen. Again, you’ll be the first to be asked, but you won’t be the last because everyone is going to have to have skin in the game as we move this city forward.
I’ll finish with this: as I said earlier this is a structural moment of change since the economic crisis began four years ago. And I think we’re all catching up with it. I think our consciousness is still catching up with the sheer complexity of what we’re facing. We’re still catching up with the whole notion of global competitiveness. We have a lot of changes we have to make. Human beings – and even more so governments – are a bit slow to respond to events and changing circumstances. It’s time for us to catch up. If you look at the national debate, we aren’t even close. Our friends in the Tea Party on one extreme, are not ready to invest in anything. There are some other people who think we have all the money in the world to invest. We don’t. We have to make pin-pointed choices.
Well, if we make those choices right, they help us build the middle class, they help us grow jobs throughout the city and obviously in our country. And they show people a pathway to shared prosperity, which is so desperately needed. We have to – all of us – keep restoring some hope. We have to show people that we actually know we are all in this together. We have to live out the words that Bill Clinton talked about in his speech in Charlotte.
Finally, it’s who we are. This is who New York City is. We have always been ahead of the curve economically. We have always been ahead of the curve educationally. That’s part of how we became the greatest city in the world. We haven’t sustained it in recent years, and let’s be fair, we’ve been busted by some extraordinary crises. But I think this is the beginning of a pathway to get us back to that preeminence so people from all over the world can look and see what they have always seen in New York City: the cutting edge, the most creative, the most dynamic, the best coordination between public and private sector, and the place where people come to join the middle class.
Support from Advocates & Community Leaders:
Jennifer March-Joly of the
Citizens’ Committee for Children:
“CCC applauds Public Advocate de Blasio for releasing an ambitious plan to significantly expand children's access to early education and after-school opportunities that have been proven to improve educational and economic outcomes. We look forward to working with the Public Advocate, Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Quinn and the City Council to strengthen and expand child care and after-school services for all children. The health and stability of these systems today and the ability of the city to serve greater numbers of children and youth tomorrow, will define what kind of city New York is.”
Campaign for Children:
“Following the City Council and Administration’s historic restoration of $150 million to the child care and after-school systems in the 2012 budget, we are thrilled to see our elected leaders continuing to prioritize the expansion and improvement of these essential systems. We applaud Public Advocate de Blasio for today putting forward a bold, expansive, fully funded plan to ensure quality pre-K and after-school for many of New York's children. We look forward to working with the Public Advocate, City Council, Mayor and other elected officials to develop a plan to make long-term investments in stable, reliable and sustainable systems for New York's children and families.”
Executive Director Michael Kink of
the Strong Economy for All Coalition:
“Right now, income inequality and education disparities are damaging New York City's economy and hurting our families. We need to go in a different direction. Fair-share taxes that fund effective investments in early education will help lift kids out of poverty and put them on a path to the middle class. Public Advocate de Blasio’s plan is a smart start to a necessary discussion on how we can move towards a city that’s more fair and more prosperous for everyone.”
United Federation of Teachers
President Michael Mulgrew:
“Better educational opportunities for our children should be the first budget priority for New York City, and I applaud the Public Advocate for coming with a bold plan to help our children and our schools succeed."
Ernest Logan, President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators:
“Our economic future is all about education, and the research shows more and more that starting earlier and extending learning time are some of the best tools to equip kids to succeed. Bill is right: it's time to think big and lay a foundation that doesn't leave kids behind."
City Council Member Letitia James:
“A strong educational foundation is the key to success: the success of the child, the community and the city of New York. Children and their families must be supported and provided with a safe place for their children to learn in school and after school, if our goal is to have a vibrant and successful middle class.”
City Council Member Fernando Cabrera:
“There’s no doubt about the value of investing in earlier and longer learning. This is what it will take to lift kids out of poverty, to help them compete and make it into the middle class. I support the Public Advocate’s plan, and I give him credit for coming up with a fair way to make it a reality.”
City Council Member Daniel Dromm:
“Too many kids come home every day after school to an empty apartment. Too many kids spend their most critical, formative years in front of a TV when they need to be laying an educational foundation. There’s no question these are the right priorities for a city trying to build a middle class and prepare our kids to compete in the real world.”