City Launches Pre-K Expansion, Adding Four Thousand New Seats

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Two days after Albany lawmakers allocated $300 million for pre-kindergarten in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that pre-k expansion was underway, with an additional 4,268 full-day seats found in public school buildings.

"We started this very day sending out notices to parents all over New York City letting them know the good news: that they have a lot more pre-k seats that they can apply for, and that they are going to be full-day seats now," he said Wednesday, after visiting a pre-k class at P.S. 239 in Ridgewood, Queens.

The Department of Education posted the full list of additional school sites online. The city is also in the process of hiring teachers.

Universal pre-kindergarten is the foundation of de Blasio's education agenda, because it's seen as a way to help children of all different economic backgrounds develop the skills they need to become good learners. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said it is "not babysitting," as she and the mayor described watching four-year-olds at P.S. 239 use words such as "chrysalis" and "metamorphosis" in conjunction with The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

The mayor said P.S. 239 is among hundreds of elementary schools that currently only offer half-day classes -- which are of little use to working parents -- but will be able to add full-day classes this fall. The city surveyed its 800 elementary schools this spring to see if they could add more pre-k classes, and de Blasio said about 60 percent came through in the end.

Creating new seats in the public schools is just the first wave of the city's expansion to meet its goal of offering 53,000 full-day seats in September. Most of them will be based in community-based organizations (CBOs) that are converting half-day programs to full-day with the additional funds, or adding new seats. The city is reviewing applications and will announce the CBO seats by early June.

In the meantime, officials are encouraging parents to apply to as many as 12 programs in the public schools before the April 23 deadline, in order to broaden their options. They can apply online, in person at district offices and on the phone.

Brooklyn and Queens have the greatest number of additional seats in public schools this coming fall, each with more than 1,200. District 30 in Queens, which includes Long Island City, will get an additional 378 seats.

Isaac Carmignani, co-president of the local community education council, said it was good news for many parents.

"They can have their minds at ease as they go to work and provide for their families," he said.

De Blasio added the city plans to expand its offerings again in the 2015-16 school year.

"By the second-year literally every child of pre-k age in all of New York City, of every background will get a seat," he said.

It will help to have charter schools in the mix. They missed this year's expansion effort because the state law allowing them to offer pre-k was signed just this week.