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Pittsburgh Learning Lessons from NYC on Universal Pre-K

As Pennsylvania continues a campaign to ensure access to PRE-K programs for all children, Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, a representative from Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, Pittsburgh Public Schools, and a group from the Pittsburgh Association for the Education of Young Children (PAEYC) traveled to New York City to see how that city is implementing universal Pre-K.

Rudiak said one thing is clear: It takes multiple players working together to pull it off.

“Despite the fact that we’re talking about something that is strictly in the education realm, it’s clear that there needs to be strong political will behind any implementation of universal Pre-K,” she said.

Rudiak said Pittsburgh actually has all of the elements in place for universal Pre-K but said coordinating the elements is difficult.

“And, of course, it’s a matter of money,” Rudiak said. “We have the school district that’s possibly looking at a deficit, we’re looking at the city Act 47 plan which has had some pretty severe restrictions on city spending in order to close some deficits we might be facing in the next few years.”

Rudiak said New York’s relationship with its state capital, Albany, is quite different from the relationship between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. New York City gets $300 million from Albany for universal Pre-K.

“I’m not going to hold my breath to wait for a multi-million dollar allotment from Harrisburg for the city of Pittsburgh to establish a re-K program,” she said.

But Rudiak said lack of state funding shouldn’t stop officials here from trying to implement high-quality early learning programs. To that end, she also said programs need to go beyond the year before kindergarten.

“New York City’s program specifically focuses on 4-year-olds, but I think one of the big lessons I got out of this learning tour is that we need to look beyond four-year-olds, we really need to look at a birth-through-5 solution,” said Rudiak. “I think that’s something that we can do here, and that’s something that can make Pittsburgh even more innovative and more cutting-edge in this field.”

Going forward, Rudiak said PAEYC, the mayor’s office and the school district will reconvene to determine next steps in the push to implement universal Pre-K.