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Walsh tries again for pre-kindergarten expansion

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File

In his annual State of the City address on Tuesday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh proposed -- again -- to expand public pre-kindergarten in the city. But in the past Walsh has had a difficult time finding funding for this expansion since he vowed to make it happen in his 2013 campaign. Here are the details on his latest proposal:

What exactly is Walsh proposing?

Boston’s 4-year-olds have near-universal access to pre-kindergarten care of some sort, though much of it is private and comes at a cost. But there are hundreds of kids on the waitlists for public pre-kindergarten, which is free.


Walsh is now seeking $16.5 million to guarantee free pre-kindergarten education to all of Boston’s 4-year-olds. This week he’ll file a Home Rule Petition that, if approved by the Boston City Council, will go on to the Legislature and the governor for approval.

That sounds familiar. Has he proposed this before?

This goes all the way back to Walsh’s campaign for mayor in 2013, when he made access to early education a key part of his platform. He convened an advisory committee to investigate the issue in 2014, just months after taking office, and he has long pressured the state to commit more funding to Boston’s kids.

It’s been a tough sell to state leaders.

Still, Walsh said in his State of the City address, “725 more children are in high-quality, free pre-kindergarten classrooms” compared to three years ago.

So what’s new this time around?

This is the first time Walsh has proposed such a specific revenue stream. He wants to take that $16.5 million from the state’s Convention Center Fund – specifically surcharges on sight-seeing and car rentals that come exclusively from Boston.

“It’s only fair that Boston’s success benefits all Boston’s children,” the mayor said in his Tuesday address.


So should we expect this proposal to pass?

Not so fast. The state can dip into the Convention Center Fund to cover its budget shortfalls – it took $60 million last year – so Beacon Hill may not relinquish those funds so easily.

“Boston has come up with a new idea,” said Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center. “And there will likely be a lively debate about whether this revenue source is properly allocated to the city or the state.”

A spokesman for Governor Charlie Baker said he “has been pleased to partner with the Mayor Walsh’s administration on numerous initiatives” and would “carefully review any legislation that comes to his desk.”

Jacey Fortin can be reached at jacey.fortin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @JaceyFortin.