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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio meets with educators and support professionals at Nevada State Education's building in Las Vegas on Sunday, May 26, 2019. (Jackie Valley/Nevada Independent)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who recently joined the growing list of Democrats vying for the Oval Office, touted his plan to make universal pre-kindergarten a nationwide reality when he met with educators Sunday in Las Vegas.

De Blasio, 58, announced his bid for the presidency earlier this month and, since then, has been visiting key early-nominating states. His swing through Las Vegas this weekend marks his first campaign stop in Nevada, which hosts the first caucus in the West.

Like other presidential hopefuls, de Blasio has made public education a centerpiece of his campaign strategy. He wants to expand the pre-K-for-all approach that he implemented in New York City, which has more than tripled the number of students receiving that kind of early childhood education. Now, the city’s pre-K program enrolls about 70,000 students.

“Research has shown now conclusively that the time of greatest, most fundamental intellectual development is zero to five (years old),” he said. “We now know that kids from zero to 5 are going through that incredible growth and development, but the American education system starts full day at 6 in a lot of parts of this country. So we literally bypass the time when we could have the biggest impact.”

The mayor of America’s largest city said the federal government lacks a clear vision for public education, leading to schools “constantly getting the short end of the stick.” De Blasio said the federal government needs to prioritize education by creating a vision and helping fund it.

He said universal pre-kindergarten should be a federal mandate, supported by funds that help provide the physical infrastructure for all the new classrooms. But de Blasio also pointed to ways New York City handled the infrastructure issue such as converting a closed Catholic high school into a 28-classroom pre-K center.

“There are some things that need to come from our federal government to support all school systems,” he said.

While most questions de Blasio fielded Sunday were education-related, he also heard from teachers or support professionals concerned about immigration, health care, military and economic issues. The presidential contender said he supports Medicare-for-all and wants the United States to “rationalize” its approach to war and peace, ending unnecessary troop deployments and returning to a time when only Congress can authorize major military action.

The mayor also said he does not believe any divisiveness created by the Trump presidency is a “permanent condition” — just one of the nation’s many tough times. De Blasio said most Americans are hard-working people who care about their families. A renewed focus on that commonality, he said, would eradicate some of the divisiveness.

“The problem in America is not a lack of money,” he said. “It’s just in the wrong hands.”

About 30 educators and support professionals attended the roundtable discussion with de Blasio at the Nevada State Education Association’s headquarters in Las Vegas. Afterward, the mayor was heading to the 21st annual Puerto Rican Memorial Festival in downtown Las Vegas.

On Saturday, he met with Clark County Democrats and immigrant families at two separate events.

It’s unclear whether de Blasio, who made a late entry to the crowded Democratic field, will meet the polling or donation threshold needed to secure a place in the first presidential debates this summer. The Democratic National Committee requires candidates to either garner at least 1 percent in three separate and approved polls or receive 65,000 unique campaign donations.

The mayor said he has stops planned “all over the country” to continue spreading his message.

“I’m hopeful, but we’ve got more to do,” he said of the debate requirements.

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