City Sees Spike in Pre-K Applications

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 - 07:03 PM

A pre-k class lines up to wash hands at P.S. 261 Philip Livingston in Boerum Hill. (Yasmeen Khan/WNYC)

The city says more families than usual are applying for pre-k seats in public schools. So far, 21,700 applications have come in, a 27 percent increase over the same time last year.

Sophia Pappas, Executive Director for Department of Education's Office of Early Childhood Education, attributes the increase to Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to provide universal, full-day prekindergarten.

"I would say it's all the excitement and momentum around getting more full-day pre-K in the city," she said.

The application numbers are just for public schools, not pre-k programs at community-based organizations. The city is currently reviewing proposals from schools and community organizations seeking to expand the number of children they can serve for a full day. Many currently only provide half-day programs, which are not considered sufficient for working families.

Last month, the city announced that it had received proposals for 29,000 more seats from both public schools and community-based organizations, which is more than the 21,000 it is seeking by September. This would bring the total number of full-day seats to 53,000, a significant increase.

But even if the city gets the money it's seeking from Albany, it has limited space in its public schools. It currently provides about 16,000 full-day seats, and is seeking to add another 4,200. So the demand is already well above the supply. The city has no breakdown yet for which neighborhoods have provided the most applications, or whether they will have more seats. All of this matchmaking will need to happen swiftly if the funds materialize by Albany's April 1 budget deadline.

Pappas said her staff is presuming the money will come through, so the DOE is now reviewing proposals from individual schools to expand their programs and will know by the first week in April which schools will get how many extra seats. The application deadline was extended until April 23.

That gives families just a few weeks to adjust their applications, and some parent leaders worry this will be a tight squeeze.

Tesa Wilson, president of the Community Education Council for District 14 in Brooklyn, said many parents still have questions, even after attending D.O.E. information sessions.

"There's still so much confusion about where seats are going to be," she said. Furthermore, she said many parents aren't comfortable about enrolling their children in public school pre-k programs without having a guarantee that their child can attend kindergarten or first grade in the same school.

The city is planning to tell community-based organizations in May and June whether they will be able to expand, giving families more options if they don't get space in public schools. The vast majority of the additional seats will be in community-based organizations.

Steven Antonelli, administrative director of Bank Street Head Start in the East Village, said he's sure interest in free pre-k programs is growing because private programs can be very expensive.

"I think it raises the consciousness of parents in general, and they realize that there is another option," he said. "I think also the community-based organizations are sort of beating the bushes too because they want to fill their UPK contracts."

Even if the city does get new pre-k funds from the state, other hurdles remain. It will have just a few months to get the classrooms organized and hire teachers. Pappas said the D.O.E. will expand outreach efforts and summer training.


Comments [2]

Amanda from Brooklyn

My children attend a school in Brooklyn with a very mixed socio-economic, racial, and ethnic population. The principal asked me, and a few other parents, to call local daycares and pre-k programs to do a little outreach and let them know about our school, which is new. Without exception, every single place in the neighborhood of the school had no idea that the pre-K and K application process had been moved completely online and centralized. All of the people I spoke to told me that they didn't start inviting schools to approach parents until the spring. None of them seemed to believe me or even to comprehend what I was saying when I explained that the application deadline would have passed by then. I imagine that the majority of the increase is going to be in very specific populations where money, opportunity, internet access, and a strong grasp of the English language are prevalent. I imagine that come August, there will be a huge scramble of people who have no spot because they weren't informed about the new application process scrambling to get spots on waiting lists across the city.

Mar. 19 2014 05:35 PM

While a 27% increase in application for pre-k seats is a nice sized spike, the number applications is less than half of what the DOE is looking for. 21,700 parents are seeking pre-k seats and de Blasio/Farina plan to provide 53,000 for the fall with 73,000 eventually available. Where is the demand? Even with the deadline pushed back until the lend of April, it is unlikely that the 21,000 number is going to double. I wonder how the DOE performed their original analysis?

It will be interesting to see where the demand is coming from and where the programs will be located. In Lower Manhattan there is a huge demand for pre-k, but most can afford private programs if they need to. This doesn't seem like the population that the DOE wants to target. In areas like Brownsville and East New York, pre-k seats are often left unfilled. So far, this program does not look well thought out.

Mar. 19 2014 01:05 PM

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