Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday that 50,407 students have enrolled in pre-kindergarten, and he expected enrollment to reach his target of 53,000 by Oct. 1.
De Blasio, who has made pre-kindergarten expansion the signature project of his mayoralty, said he took the enrollment figure as a sign of early success.
“Parents get what this means for our kids,” he said. “We built this in a year. And the people we came here to serve have ratified it by the extraordinary enrollment numbers.”
The mayor spoke a week before school starts at a press conference flanked by more than a dozen officials — including commissioners and other representatives of almost every city agency that touched the pre-k expansion effort: Education, Health, Fire, Investigations, and Children’s Services.
The press conference came a day after City Comptroller Scott Stringer sounded the alarm about the safety of some pre-k sites, as the Department of Education has been late to submit more than 70 percent of the contracts with pre-k providers for approval. Stringer has reviewed only 141 of more than 500 contracts.
City officials deflected the comptroller’s concerns, and strove to present the apparatus of city government rallying behind the expansion..
Gladys Carrion, the commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, said her agency developed contracts for pre-k centers separate from the Department of Education, and submitted 130 out of 132 contracts to the comptroller which were not included in Stringer's count.
Chancellor Carmen Farina said the Education Department has frequently been late to submit contracts to the comptroller. “It’s not new, it’s not news,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery had told WNYC, "It's a red herring."
“We ensure safety through city agencies,” Buery said, noting that fire, health, and buildings inspectors and instructional staff from the Department of Education will continue to examine pre-k sites.
Officials from the Department of Investigation said at the press conference that everyone who works at pre-kindergarten sites must undergo criminal background checks. All pre-k workers have submitted this paperwork, officials said, and until it has cleared, they must work under someone who has already been approved.
They also said that only five sites remain with serious health violations in need of immediate action, down from 12 last week. If the violations are not addressed, those centers will not open.
“I think it will be very smooth,” the mayor said of the first day of school. “We feel very confident about a smooth school opening and a safe school opening.”
About 1,100 community organizations and around 600 public schools will offer pre-k this school year.