Publication Date

Fall 2020


New York City is at the vanguard in introducing free, high-quality universal pre-kindergarten as a strategy to address educational inequity and significant opportunity gaps by improving early school readiness. New York State law authorizing universal pre-kindergarten (“UPK”), accompanied by robust quality standards, paved the way for New York City’s impressive UPK initiative. A separate New York State law authorizes charter schools and limits regulatory oversight of such schools. Matter of DeVera v. Elia, a recent decision by New York State’s highest court, dealt a blow to New York City and State efforts to require a powerful charter entity to abide by the UPK law’s requirements and procurement standards in connection with contracts to provide pre-kindergarten services. This article examines Matter of DeVera’s legal and policy implications for UPK; the Court’s methods of statutory interpretation, consideration of, and respect for legislative intent; and agency expertise in implementing statutes they are charged with administering. The article proposes that the Court adhere to principles of statutory construction and interpretation that consider complex statutory schemes in their entirety, and work to harmonize variant provisions in a manner closely aligned with legislative intent and public law goals.


Natalie Gomez-Velez is a Professor of Law at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law. She is a graduate of New York University School of Law where she was an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Fellow. Her recent work, “Universal Pre-Kindergarten: Supporting High Quality and Broad Access at a Time of Federal Disengagement and ‘School Choice’” appears in the Oxford Handbook of U.S. Education Law and examines the growing popularity of universal pre-kindergarten as a public policy initiative despite challenges to its implementation in the face of government constraints. Professor Gomez-Velez is grateful to CUNY Law Review editors and staff, including Andreas Argeros, Audrey Juarez, Mira DeJong, Max Behrman, Natalie Baker, Victoria Pilger, Jennifer I. Lopez, for their helpful edits, suggestions, and hard work on this article. The author is also deeply grateful to Roberto Velez for his review of early drafts and his steadfast support during the writing process. Any errors or omissions are the author’s own. Professor Gomez-Velez dedicates this article posthumously to Maria D. Gomez, a phenomenal woman and pre-k and kindergarten teacher and to former Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, a phenomenal woman and jurist.

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