A newly elected politician can generally use his or her political capital on issues of their choice. A newly elected President Barack Obama spent much of his capital on passing the Stimulus Package (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) and Health Care Reform (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). Florida Governor Rick Scott spent much of his first years in office slashing money to public schools and universities, refusing federal stimulus money such as the $2.4 billion dollars that would have built a high speed rail system between Tampa and Orlando and created thousands of jobs, and initially rejecting Medicaid expansion at a time when 21 percent of his state was uninsured.
Since beginning his term as the Mayor of New York City earlier this year, Bill de Blasio has set a national standard for innovative policymaking in the area of education. He and his administration have used their bully pulpit to bring together legislators, community leaders, and other entities to push through a number of measures that will surely pay long-term dividends for the residents of New York City. De Blasio was able to get the Governor and state legislature to pass funding measures to allow for Universal-Pre Kindergarten for four-year-olds in the city. This is critically important from an equity standpoint as children from low-income families hear an average of 30 million less words than their high-income counterparts.
Intergovernmental relations play a big role and have major consequences in matters like these in the area of educational funding. The federal push for the funding of Universal Pre-K failed causing state and local entities to address the issue on a piecemeal basis. De Blasio had to work with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was wary about raising taxes in an election year for him, to pass universal Pre-K. A few years prior, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett reversed a funding formula that caused a $304 million dollar budget shortfall for the School district of Philadelphia. This shortfall resulted in a severe budget crisis that the city and school district are still struggling mightily to deal with.
In Florida, the aforementioned Governor Rick Scott initially blocked capital funding for construction and repairs at traditional public schools while approving similar funds for charter schools. Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho then campaigned for and was successful in passing a 1.2 billion dollar bond referendum in 2012 for construction and repairs for the district's schools. Innovated funding strategies for education such as this are needed at the local level as a counter to adverse funding maneuvers at the federal and state levels.
De Blasio also spearheaded the expansion of after school programs for middle school students by 271. This is meaningful in a number of different ways. First, it effectively extends the school day creating more time for academic enrichment and innovative educational techniques that could increase the readiness of students for post-secondary educational and career opportunities. Second, it keeps children in a protective environment for a longer period of time thus acting as a viable violence reduction strategy. Third, it opens the door for increased community, corporate, and college/university partnerships for activities that could potentially complement the after-school programming.
Additionally, de Blasio has put an action plan in place to create at least 100 community schools. Last month, he announced a $52 million dollar grant to create 40 of them in neighborhoods of high need:
At Community Schools, parents will be able to secure essential services on the school campus or within the immediate vicinity with the help of an experienced non-profit provider. A full time Resource Coordinator at each school will help communities identify the necessary mix of services for each student body. The exact types of these services and programs offered at each Community School will be tailored to the needs of students, families, and the school community.
De Blasio's political leadership on the issue of education reminds us that elections do have consequences and that public policy and political leverage can be used to make a very significant impact in the lives of many people. He has set a standard nationally for other political leaders to follow in the area of education. The challenge now for he and his administration will be the complex details of the implementation of the programs and policies that have been put in place. The trajectory of the educational vision that Mayor de Blasio has put into action bodes exceptionally well for the future of New York City and other cities that seek to replicate and expand on these initiatives.
Marcus Bright, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Education for a Better America and an Adjunct Professor in the School of Public Administration at Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University