Giving Thoughts


Q&A with Richard Buery: Why Pre-K Education Matters to Children, Communities, and Businesses

By Alice Korngold and Richard BueryPre-K 2

As New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, Richard Buery is the architect of Pre-K for All, which for the first time provides free, full-day Pre-K for every four-year old in NYC. Based on his extensive experience in building and running nonprofits to help children achieve their full potential, Buery has a rich perspective on what works. In this Q&A, Buery shares how Pre-K education is an opportunity for communities to prepare children for a better future, while also benefiting companies.

Q: How does Pre-K education prepare children for their futures?

A: In high-quality, full-day Pre-K programs like New York City’s Pre-K for All, children develop cognitive, executive functioning, and social emotional skills. They also form healthy relationships with adults and peers, all through an interactive, play-based curriculum. Our goal is to promote children’s healthy development while getting them ready—academically and socially—for kindergarten.

Recently, UC Berkley published a study that found that high-quality Pre-K produced “remarkable gains” among students in the areas of pre-literary and mathematics skills. This is one of the many studies which has demonstrated the extraordinary long-term impacts of a quality early childhood education.

Since most brain development occurs before age 6, we really only have a short window of time to make this life-altering difference.

New York City makes this investment in free full-day Pre-K because we want the next generation of New Yorkers to reach their full potential—no matter what neighborhood they live in or how much their families make.

It is part of Mayor de Blasio’s Equity and Excellence plan for New York City public schools to ensure that all children have the tools to matriculate to college and graduate, and to be successful in their careers and in their adult lives.

Q: Why should this matter to businesses?

A: Businesses need an educated workforce, and Pre-K For All is one of the best investments any city can make in the education of its citizens.

Furthermore, free, full-day Pre-Ks allow parents and caregivers to fully participate in the workforce. The alleviated burden of childcare is also an alleviated burden on employers. Employers can be assured that their staff will be at work regularly when their employees have safe and affordable care for their children, and it doesn’t get more affordable than free.

In addition, the money that parents save on early childhood education—upwards of $10,000 can be invested back into the local economy.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman estimates that every dollar invested in Pre-K yields $8 in benefits. Our entire society, including the business sector, is made better by healthy, well-educated citizens, and Pre-K helps make that possible.

Q: What can companies do to help drive the Pre-K initiative in New York City and other communities nationwide?

A: Companies can help spread the word that free, full-day Pre-K is a benefit that the City provides to all New York parents and caregivers. They can direct their employees here for more information about the different curricula offered in our classrooms and to our Pre-K finder tool, to help decide which program is the best fit for their family.

They can also advocate for the continuation of Mayoral control of the schools—a governance structure that gives the Mayors the tools to implement large-scale initiatives such as Pre-K for All and 3-K, our new effort to expand our program a year earlier.

Companies not based in New York City can advocate on the local level to get this service fully funded. Through Pre-K for All Cities, New York City has collaborated with cities across the country—Boston, Chicago, San Antonio, Seattle, and Mesa, Arizona to name a few—that are interested in either launching or expanding early childhood education to provide a seat to every eligible child.

Let your elected officials know that this is a smart investment in our children’s future and that it serves as a benefit to all. Fight to make it a priority in your City.

Q: You have devoted yourself to improving the lives of children—from co-founding the Mission Hill Summer Program, establishing iMentor and Groundwork, Inc., to heading up the Children’s Aid Society, and now serving in the Mayor’s Office in NYC and on numerous boards of directors. What drives you?

A: I am driven by a firm belief that everyone—from the time they’re born—has the innate ability to reach their full potential.

I grew up in the East New York section of Brooklyn at a time when 70 percent of children were born into poverty. To this day, East New York struggles with crippling rates of poverty and scores lower on a number of performance measures than other parts of the city.

When I matriculated to the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, I was soon introduced to a New York City unlike the one I knew all my life—and the differences were jarring. Children had every resource they needed to succeed. In fact, they always had; their destiny was never in question.

That experience stuck with me and I brought it to college, where I had the chance to mentor kids at the Roxbury Housing Projects in Boston. As an undergraduate student, my classmates and I founded the Mission Hill Summer Program to give students from disadvantaged backgrounds access to the same experiences wealthier kids enjoy.

I know what children can do when given love and support. I joined this Administration because Mayor Bill de Blasio does too, and he was willing to put the City’s resources on the line to give every child in every neighborhood what they need to thrive.

Q: What’s your advice to others who care about preparing our nation’s children for productive and meaningful futures?

A: No aim is too aspirational and no goal is too big when it comes to our young people.

When I joined the de Blasio Administration to make the Mayor’s campaign promise of free pre-k for every four-year old a reality, no one believed we could get it done. They said we were aiming too high and that many efforts before ours had failed.

There were only 19,500 kids in a Pre-K program when the Mayor came into office in January, 2014.

On the first day of school that September, we nearly tripled enrollments in full-day Pre-K to 53,000. And by September, 2015, we were finally able to deliver on the campaign promise to offer a seat to every child who applied—68,000. Today, there are about 70,000 children in full-day Pre-K and our preliminary research shows that our programs are high quality. Now we’re expanding on that success with 3-K for All.

Ultimately, we have succeeded because we made children a priority. I hope that anyone with a novel or revolutionary new idea for transforming our children’s futures will find inspiration in knowing that if you take it seriously, it can be done.

About the Author:

Richard Buery

Richard Buery, New York City Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives

Richard Buery is New York City Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives. A member of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior cabinet, he leads some of the City’s key initiatives to expand opportunity. He is the architect of Pre-K for All, which for the first time provides free, full-day Pre-K for every 4-year old in NYC and is now leading its expansion to three-year olds. As the City’s Minority/Women-owned Business Director, he led the creation of the Mayor’s Office of M/WBEs, and oversees an ambitious multi-agency effort to award 30 percent of city contract dollars to M/WBEs by 2021. Buery graduated from Stuyvesant High School and matriculated to Harvard College at age 16.

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