New York City’s ambitious push for universal prekindergarten for 4-year-olds is rooted in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign platform, a pledge to ease income inequality by expanding opportunity for the city’s poorest children.
The city, which has 1.1 million students in its public school system, the nation’s largest, enrolled 53,000 4-year-olds in full-day prekindergarten slots this year by adding seats to programs in public schools and in community programs and by extending existing half-day spots.
That move, which more than doubled the number of available full-day spots, was the first phase of a two-year plan to bring free prekindergarten to the city’s 73,000 eligible 4-year-olds.
Size of Community: 8.4 million
Public Preschool Enrollment: 53,000 full-day students
Preschool Funding Level: $300 million in 2014-15
Ages Served: 4-year-olds
Type of Program: voluntary, full-day
“We are building a new and better foundation for our children and our city,” Mr. de Blasio said at a September press event. “This is a monumental moment in the lives of tens of thousands of children and their families.”
At a time when policymakers and children’s advocates have homed in on early education as a policy goal, New York City’s efforts have drawn attention—both for the scale of the expansion and for its speed. The expansion included summer training for about 4,000 teachers and assistant teachers and an advertising campaign to encourage parents to enroll their children.
Organizers faced hurdles, including criticism that the quick pace of the expansion led to cutting corners in areas like facilities, approval of contracts with private providers, and teacher preparedness. Days before the start of the school year, the city announced plans to cancel the opening of nine pre-K centers and to postpone the opening of 36 others because of facilities issues and other concerns.
Mayor de Blasio pitched the effort as a way of leveling the playing field for the city’s children and bridging the income gap between its poorest and richest residents.
He originally proposed funding the expansion by increasing taxes on the city’s highest earners, those with incomes greater than $500,000 a year. That plan was projected to bring in about $530 million for prekindergarten and after-school programs over five years.
State lawmakers refused to greenlight the tax proposal, instead allotting $340 million statewide for prekindergarten expansion for the 2014-15 school year. Of those funds, $300 million is going to New York City. That first year of funding is part of a statewide plan to allocate $1.5 billion over five years for prekindergarten programs.