City Sets Aside Dollars for More Full-Day Pre-K

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More New York City children could have access to full-day pre-kindergarten programs starting next school year, especially children in the neediest neighborhoods.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced Monday that the city plans to add 4,000 full-day seats for the youngest students entering school in September, 2013, at a cost to the city of $20 million.

Walcott said the demand has increased for full-day pre-kindergarten rather than the 2.5-hour half-day program, which can present a scheduling and daycare challenge for many families. He said the lack of options for full-day pre-K has deterred some families from enrolling their children in an early childhood program altogether.

"Citywide, 7,500 children are not enrolling in any kind of pre-kindergarten program," he said. "And enrollment rates are at its lowest in some of our neediest districts."

Education officials said they have not yet identified where they will concentrate the additional full-day seats, but will take into account factors like current enrollment in pre-K programs, what areas have high concentrations of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch as well as areas with low student achievement. The seats will be added to pre-K programs in public schools and community-based organizations.

Total enrollment in public pre-K programs has increased from 40,000 in 2002 to 58,200 in 2012, city officials say. The city currently has enough capacity for 16,000 students in full-day programs and almost all of those seats are full. Education officials say they have worked to increase demand for pre-K over the past year with outreach efforts to parents, and with demand comes a need to fund programs.

New York City receives state funds for pre-K, but the money can only be used to fund half-day programs and districts must commit their own money to run full-day programs.

Over the past several years, the city has been eligible for maximum pre-K grants ranging from about $225 million to $248 million, said Jonathan Burman, a spokesman with the New York State Education Department. But because of the low demand for half-day programs, and the inability to match the funds to convert the programs to full-day, the city has returned between $2 million and $35 million annually, Burman said.

He added the use of state money to fund the costs associated with full-day programs would require a statutory change to the state aid formula.

The chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, said she believes the timing is ripe to have the conversation around funding full-day pre-K, and she says she hopes to make the issue a legislative priority for the Board of Regents.

"Most parents are in a reality where both parents are working, so a half-day pre-K slot is simply not meeting the challenges and demands of the 21st century family," Tisch said.

The mayor also outlined plans to open an early childhood school in Brownsville, Brooklyn under the umbrella of a national program called Educare, which serves children from birth to five years. It works with needy children and families to develop the academic and social skills needed to succeed in school.

"When you have children as young as three to six months and you bring their parents in early, you are modeling -- the teachers are modeling -- for their parent how to interact with them," said Ronald Richter, commissioner of the Administration for Children's Services, who will work with the Department of Education on the program. "It may seem logical that you talk to a four-, five- and six-month-old child. Not all parents know that that is a key part of developing a baby's ability to interact."

Education officials say that national research has shown a correlation between early childhood programs and academic achievement. They say that quality programs can increase school readiness, lead to higher incomes and reduce the likelihood of drug use and involvement in the criminal justice system.

The mayor said the D.O.E. will match private contributions to cover capital costs for the early learning center, which will be located in an existing school building.