Making Universal Pre-K truly universal

dpc_crayonsAs the conversation over funding for Universal Pre-Kindergarten continues in political circles and budget debates, our office is introducing legislation to assure that as we go forward, Pre-K programs, widely recognized as critical for educational equity,  are truly universal and that three and four year olds with special needs are included in both the programming and in the funding.

This important state policy change would be a win-win-win that will improve educational and social outcomes for these children, create a smoother transition for families and school districts, and relieve our counties of millions of dollars of unfunded state mandates that they have shouldered for too long.  In Dutchess County, for example, this would represent nearly $8.5 million in annual savings.

In 2012, some 80,000 three and four year olds received special education services in New York State, but not alongside their more developed peers.  This is despite federal policy that provides that children with disabilities receive their education, to the maximum extent appropriate, with non-disabled peers. Research shows that ‘inclusion’ classrooms provide significant benefits for special needs students.  They encourage developmental and intellectual success—sometimes to the point that kids grow out of their need for special services. The benefits extend to the classroom community, as well, allowing for greater understanding and tolerance of different abilities and learning styles from a very young age.

Today, New York state operates three different pre-kindergarten systems: One for special needs children based on determination by local school districts, administered through local health departments and paid for by county and state dollars; the second system, for mainstream 3- and 4-year-olds, is run by the State Education Department (SED) and funded by the school districts and the state; and the third is the private school system, largely parent financed. These multiple systems result in unequal, splintered and unbalanced service delivery to New York’s preschool children, especially those with special needs.

At the time this system of services was created, counties were promised the state would cover 75 percent of the costs of preschool education for 3- to 5-year-olds. However, the state never fulfilled this commitment.  According to the New York State Association of Counties, our counties along with New York City, contribute 40.5 percent, which in 2014-15 translated to $710 million out of the $1.8 billion program, $260 million of which fell on the counties outside of New York City.

Pre-K services for children with special needs are the only piece of the education continuum that is run by counties and not by SED. As we set a goal of Universal Pre K, this is the right time for the Preschool Special Education program to be transferred to SED and local school districts and be fully funded in the next round of UPK funding. Counties are not equipped to, nor should they be required to, be in the business of educating our children.

New York State owes it to children of all abilities, and the families that love and nurture them, to ensure that their education is a priority worth funding.

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Taking a Solemn Oath

This weekend we held the ceremonial swearing-in for my second full term in the New York State Assembly.  The following are my remarks following the oath.

Thank you all for being here today with me, my family and our team.  We officially kick off my second full term as member of the New York State Assembly for the spectacularly beautiful, historically and culturally rich 106th Assembly District — which I am so very proud to represent and advocate for every single day.IMG_0587_0

And thank you for all your incredible efforts during our challenging re-election campaign, a hard-fought success during a very tough campaign season…..

…So…. nobody warned me that this public service business is most definitely not for the feint of heart!

The drama and the distractions of the last month, starting with the arrest of my opponent for sexual abuse and endangering a minor just weeks after he conceded, to the arrest this past week of Speaker Sheldon Silver on highly serious and troubling charges is simply stunning.

For me, this job continues to be first and foremost about our district in the extraordinary Hudson Valley, with its world class farmland and blooming agricultural and food sector; its stunning natural resources, from the majestic Hudson River to the many state and local parks; its diverse creative community reflected in the growing and vibrant performance and visual arts programs in all corners of the district; and the deep history that roots us in the past while growing our economy as the recent Great Estates study showed us by identifying some $65 million in economic benefit spurred by a dozen federal, state and private historic sites in our area.

We had a remarkably successful first term in the legislature. Among the highlights: The signing of historic Lyme Legislation that will protect our families, friends and neighbors struggling with tick-borne diseases and the caring doctors who treat them; Bringing back $3.5 million dollars in state funds to allow for the repeal of last year’s onerous energy tax in Dutchess County; Passing legislation to make Wappinger Creek, and the towns along this important waterway, eligible for Federal funds.

Equally important, we have fought alongside our towns, neighbors and the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition for more than a year to stop the threat of monster power lines destroying our viewsheds, farms, communities and tourism economy. While we are not yet out of the woods on this misguided Energy Highway, there is increasing evidence from actions by the PSC and the Governor’s office that the proposal is being re-thought. I believe it was a very good sign that the Governor announced $20 million specifically for farmland preservation in the Hudson Valley in his budget address last week, with a shout out to the Hudson Valley as a “gem.”

Our small but mighty team also organized and hosted several important forums in the district this past term which brought together policy experts, stakeholders, community members and county leaders from both Dutchess and Columbia Counties to brainstorm on topics ranging from Mental Health to Energy Use to Aging as a Women’s Issue. For Women’s History Month we produced a booklet that told the stories of ten remarkable Hudson Valley women from the 18th to the 21st Century and shared them with libraries throughout the district. We are currently working on this year’s booklet, so please feel free to let us know if you have any suggestions.

When I look ahead to the next two years the two words that keep coming to mind are stewardship and sustainability. Stewardship of the spectacular resources that surround us here in the Hudson Valley and ensuring that we move forward with a future that is sustainable both environmentally and economically, protecting the things we love about our region while nurturing them to be the economic drivers we know they can be.

Essential to this is ensuring we have the good-paying jobs to keep our hard-working families in the region, that we work to attract students who come to college in the Hudson Valley to stay here after they graduate and that we encourage young people who go away for school or to “see the world” come back here to raise their families. We need to create the social norm that all the “cool kids” know this is the place to be when they are ready to start their careers and families!

I will continue to be a passionate advocate for our family farms, working to increase opportunities in agriculture for returning veterans; working to encourage diversified revenue streams for farms through farm stays and more value added products; and working to ensure that everyone understands that agriculture is a business and a key economic engine.

In our country today there is a $25 billion unmet need for “local” food. People say they are willing to spend more on local food; millennials as a cohort are particularly drawn to “artisan” products; and the majority of shoppers understand that “buying local” helps the local economy, which they want to support. And, while other states are struggling with water shortages, farming in our state and region is viewed in some circles as a hedge against climate change.

In the Hudson Valley, agriculture has driven growth in tourism, food production and the farm to table restaurant boom, as well as small businesses that have cropped up to serve these sectors. In Columbia County we are seeing efforts to expand goat farming, spurred by a large French chevre company and throughout the valley we are seeing historic crops like hops and other grains being re-planted to address the state’s incentives for craft breweries, distilleries and cideries.

Our office will continue to look to ways to support the municipalities and school districts we represent, whether helping them access state funds through the Regional Economic Development Council process or fighting for relief from unfunded state mandates. As Universal Pre-Kindergarden expands upstate, we are pushing again this year to assure that this program is truly universal and that four year olds with special needs are included in the program and in the funding. This important change will improve educational and social outcomes for these kids, make it easier for their families and relieve counties of millions of dollar of unfunded mandates to pay for special needs pre-k that they have shouldered for too long.

Again, I thank you for your friendship and support. As you know our team — Nick, Kimberly, Tyrone and me — is always available to help, listen, brainstorm, chat. Whatever you need — We work for you.

I especially want to thank Julia and Nigel Widdowson and the Red Devon for hosting us today, the Honorable Joan Posner, the terrific young women of Perfect Ten and the amazing Barrettones for being part of this special afternoon.

I want to thank all of your for making time on a winter Sunday to be part of this historic and solemn oath to serve you and our district. I thank you for your trust and I look forward to seeing you again soon at a Diner near you.



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Thinking of Ways to Support Small Business in 2015

Small business is indeed the backbone of our economy – in our region, state and country.  Small businesses have long been our greatest job creators, our most creative innovators and the incubators for growth in new, as well as traditional, sectors.hug-a-small-business pic

Looking ahead to 2015, with the NFIB Small Business Optimism Index at a 7 year high,  let’s see how we in the Hudson Valley can better support, grow and diversify our small business sector. This could mean shopping at a small boutique or bookstore when we run out for last minute gifts; turning to local farms, wineries, craft distilleries or  caterers when planning our New Year’s parties; choosing family-run hardware stores, suppliers or pharmacies over the big box chains; or starting your own business, maybe something  you have been dreaming about for years.

At the state level, we are working to support small businesses, as well.  The Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council was a top performer in the state’s recent funding cycle securing $82.8 million. Together with the Capital Region Council, a total of $140 million was awarded to our region.   A chunk of that will support small business projects in Dutchess and Columbia counties, including $1 million toward creation of a revolving loan fund to be managed by Community Capital, the SBA certified micro-lender for the Hudson Valley.

In the 2014-15 state budget, we created a new Minority and Women Owned Business Investment Fund and Lending Program to provide critical financial support for new and emerging ideas and to promote long-term financial performance and success of MWBE start-ups. We are also working to offer more opportunities to our veterans through initiatives like the veteran’s entrepreneurial assistance program.

For those who want to explore launching that small business they’ve always dreamed about, there are some excellent resources here in the Hudson Valley:

The Women’s Enterprise Development Center (WEDC) has a Hudson Valley location at the state-of-the-art Hancock Center at Marist College and they offer seminars on entrepreneurship – from “first steps” to a 60 hour comprehensive course —  as well as peer support, access to capital, social media training, veteran’s programs and networking opportunities.  They can be reached at or by calling  845-575-3438.

The Mid-Hudson Small Business Development Center (SBDC) offers free counseling and a wide range of training to small-business owners, including guidance on how businesses can lower their energy costs.  They are particularly focused now on educating businesses about preparation and recovery in case of natural disasters like storms or floods. Interested businesses can contact the SBDC at 845-339-0025, by email at or online at

In addition, Empire State Development oversees the Business Mentor NY program, which connects entrepreneurs with experienced business experts in a mentorship relationship. For more on this program please visit:

As always, if you have questions or any other community issues, please feel free to contact my office at 845-454-1703 or by email at

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On Heroes, Farms and Veterans Day

Let me say at the outset that I believe every day should be Veterans Day. One day a year is certainly not enough.  And the notion that there are veterans of any age in this country who are struggling with homelessness and mental illness, committing suicide at alarming rates or despairing to find satisfying work when they return is simply unacceptable.  These are our heroes, the men and women who stepped up and put their lives on the line to protect our country and our freedoms.  They have earned our reverence, support and gratitude and they deserve nothing less.Heroic Food mailbox pic

An innovative new project in my 106th Assembly District, Heroic Food, caught my attention because it engages all of these critical issues through a thoughtful and timely connection to sustainable farming, as well as the need for more young farmers to literally put down roots and build farming businesses in our communities. Further, it aims to create a model for sustainable farmer training for military veterans that can be replicated in other rural areas.

Developed in partnership with the Farmer Veteran Coalition and the Hawthorne Valley Association Place Based Learning Center, Heroic Food offers career training for veterans of the U.S. Military in family farming, agricultural trades, food production and homesteading skills. Opportunities in all kinds of farming and production are available — from livestock husbandry, fruit farming and vegetable growing to cheese-making, beekeeping and equipment maintenance

The program is structured as a 1 to 2 year residency which includes hands-on courses, housing, mentorship, veteran support services and income-earning opportunities. This is all free to the veteran-farmer and it is located on a picturesque 18 acre farm just outside of Hudson, NY, in beautiful Columbia County.

Heroic Food now has it’s first young veteran-future farmer on board and he is eager to learn sustainable practices and introduce them back home in Georgia.  Three other future farmers are signed up to begin late this winter.  In addition to attracting more veteran-farmers there is a need for mentors, donors and other partners in this really exciting project.  To learn more, go to or call 518.821.1504.

For more information about local, state and federal services for veterans, please check out the special veteran’s portal on our New York State Assembly website:

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The Economic Engines that Could

It’s no secret that I am bullish about our beautiful Hudson Valley and passionate about ensuring that the very things we love about our region —  the family farms, rich history, cultural treasures and spectacular natural resources — become the engines for an economically and environmentally sustainable future for our region. I have been repeating this mantra for several years now, but I think it’s finally catching on.

In fact, just this week, several events in the region provided further evidence that these assets are indeed key to the future of the Hudson Valley.

In the course of one day I found myself at: 1) The Hudson Valley Beer, Wine & Spirits Summit 2.0 at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, which brought together more than 400 industry leaders and business owners; 2) A press conference for the DSC00322release of a report “The Economic Importance of Great Estates Historic Sites and Parks,” commissioned by the Taconic Region of the NY State Office of Parks;  and 3) ARTS Mid-Hudson’s Dutchess County Executive’s Arts Awards which recognized a diverse group of local artists and patrons before an audience of 200 plus people, the largest crowd ever for this annual event.

The takeaway from all these events is the enormous economic potential of those very Hudson Valley things we love. Richard Ball, NYS Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets, speaking at the C.I.A. summit, said, “We need to connect the dots between the upstate farms and the largest appetite in the country in New York City. The energy in this industry is incredible and it has never had a better relationship with Albany.”

In the same vein, the Great Estates study, which looked at the impact of 12 federal, state and private historic sites along the Hudson (most of which lie within the 106th Assembly District, I’m proud to say), identified some $65 million in economic benefit from these historic sites to Dutchess County alone. Several years ago, Olana, the state historic site in Columbia County which includes the home of Hudson River painter Frederick Church amidst stunning grounds and viewsheds, reported supporting 267 jobs and an economic impact of $7.9 million.  And another recent report on Dutchess arts and culture found local arts organizations have a $28.5 million impact on the economy.

All of this translates to $4 billion spent by tourists who come to the Hudson Valley to discover the treasure trove of riches — food, drink, history, culture,  natural beauty, outdoor activities, charming villages, stunning viewsheds, and on and on — that those of us fortunate enough to live and work here can enjoy all year round. Furthermore, all those numbers are primed to grow!

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Community Spirited

A sure sign of Autumn in the Hudson Valley, besides the cool nights and drifting leaves, is a delightful ritual called Community Day, where our small rural towns across the region take to the streets — or a local park — to celebrate their community.  Dropbox-Stanford potato - DSC00233

The day is usually highlighted by great eats, often musical beats, and sometimes marching feet.  But what the day is mostly about is the profound sense of community that is such an important part of our region.

Amenia Indian Rock SchoolThe 19 small towns, and one city, that make up the 106th Assembly District are full of people who volunteer at the fire department, who serve on village, town, planning and school boards, who help out weekly at the town library. We love the feeling of connection that comes from being an engaged part of our community.

This year many of our towns used Community Day to harken back to the region’s rich past.  Held on the grounds surrounding the one room Indian Rock School House, Amenia’s celebration showcased farm animals, a BBQ and traditional crafts.  The Town Historian and Historical Society happily shared highlights of the town’s history as a center of education.

Pine Plains paid tribute to it’s 18th Century past, honoring the Revolutionary PinePlains Rev WarWar soldiers buried in Evergreen Cemetery and launching a new effort to restore the town’s historic Graham-Brush House, a little known gem located behind Peck’s Market in the middle of the hamlet.

Stanford’s event was centered around the community’s historic Grange which continues to play a important social and agricultural role for this rural town.  I especially loved the giant baked potato made to advertise the booth selling yummy looking stuffed baked spuds.

Germantown ApplesRain didn’t dampen spirits in Greenport, which held a giant flea market and Germantown built their theme around beloved and versatile local apples, celebrating our local apple farmers, so much a part of the Hudson Valley’s agricultural tradition.

Pretty clear these celebrations are just another reason why #ILoveMyDistrict!

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Working to Lick Lyme and Other Tick-borne Diseases

Legislation Waits to be Signed

Critical legislation that recently passed both houses of  the New York State Legislature to protect people struggling with chronic Lyme and the doctors that treat them (A.7558-A/S.7854) is an important step in the multi-faceted battle against tick-borne diseases that has reached crisis proportion here in the Hudson Valley. I am proud to be the prime sponsor of the Assembly bill that passed our house unanimously and I hope that Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign the bill very soon, to bring relief to our suffering neighbors, family members and friends, and their doctors. Please reach out and encourage him to make this bill law!

The Hudson Valley has become the epicenter of the Lyme disease epidemic in the Northeastern United States. We all know people who have had Lyme or are still struggling with debilitating symptoms.  However, the practice of medicine has not kept pace with the research advances on the biological agents responsible for the disease symptom. This legislation would allow doctors, without risk of censure,  the discretion to prescribe vital antibiotics for a period of time beyond their traditional use, if and when they determine that such care is in the best interest of their patients.

Patients with Lyme disease must have the same rights as those with any other diseases: the right to be seen and treated by the practitioner of their choice, to be informed that there are differing professional judgments about the appropriate care for Lyme disease, and to participate in the choice of treatment as it pertains to their circumstance and preference. The rights of the patient hinge upon the doctor’s ability to act in their patient’s best interest without fear of reprisal from the professional discipline system when more than one set of guidelines exists.

“We are grateful to the NYS Assembly and Senate for passing this bill, which will provide patients and physicians relief.   While in the face of unsettled science, it is unconscionable that unlike other illness, so many sick Lyme disease patients have suffered due to lack of individualized treatment,” said Jill Auerbach, Chairwoman of the Hudson Valley Lyme Disease Association. “The Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) overstepped its bounds by harassment of the dedicated physicians who compassionately treated these most complicated discarded patients, who were left by others to suffer. This should relieve fears that have understandably caused other physicians reluctance in treating as they believe is correct when patients are still ill.”

“I applaud the hard work of the NY State Assembly and Senate on passing a Lyme bill that protects patients and gives physicians the right to diagnose and treat patients according to their best medical judgment,” said Dr. Richard Horowitz, author of Why Can’t I Get Better?: Solving the Mystery of Lyme and Chronic Disease. “Lyme disease is the number one vector-borne epidemic spreading worldwide, and is endemic in NY State. The passage of this bill will ensure better and more appropriate access to health care for those who are chronically afflicted with Lyme and associated tick-borne diseases.”

Know the enemy

Ultimately the goal here is to prevent illness and the enemy is the tick. In this season when we all want to be outside — after all, this is the beautiful Hudson Valley where hiking, kayaking, riding, gardening, farm visits, outdoor concerts and barbecues are our summer pleasures — prevention is the key. On your way out the door, remember these tips.

  • Ticks do not jump or fly.
  • They crawl up brush or grass up to about three feet high.
  • They wait to nab any animal that passes by.
  • Ticks die if their bodies dry out.

What you can do

  • Avoid brush and tall grass
  • Practice effective protection: shoes, socks and pants tucked into socks to keep ticks out; light colors help you see ticks.
  • Do frequent tick checks: Removing ticks before 24 hours is the best chance to prevent pathogens from infecting your body.
  • Since ticks die if they dry out, throw clothes directly into the dryer and dry at HOT for 20 minutes. Then shower thoroughly to wash any that may be crawling on you.
  • Learn how to remove ticks: A common mistake is using a burning match or cigarette. This was used with American dog ticks, but some ticks are too small and secrete a glue that helps them attach to your skin. Pointy tick removal tweezers are fool proof and won’t risk burning your skin for no reason. Always disinfect the bite area before and after removing the tick.
  • Work with your neighbors to protect each other.  Everyone should keep grass short and clear leaf litter. Ticks, and their carriers, don’t recognize property lines.
  • Research tick repellents to find what you are comfortable with. Products such as Permethrin, for example, can be sprayed on clothing and socks and lasts through washes. As always, please be sure to read all instructions.
  • To learn more check out these websites
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