Early Childhood

Analysis Offers More Details on Areas Served by N.Y.C.'s Universal Preschool

By Christina A. Samuels — February 25, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A professor who supports targeting preschool to children from low-income families released an updated analysis Wednesday of where New York City expanded its universal preschool slots, repeating his critique that many of them went to more-affluent parts of the city.

The new report by Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, was a followup to an October analysis that was quickly shot down by the city.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio campaigned on a pledge to bring universal preschool to the city. Last year, state lawmakers allotted $340 million for preschool expansion statewide; $300 million went to New York City.

In the latest report, Fuller acknowledges earlier criticism he received for comparing growth rates of universal pre-K seats in more-affluent neighborhoods to those in less-wealthy neighborhoods. The richer neighborhoods had fewer city-funded pre-K seats to start with, meaning any increase would result in a high growth rate.

“I think those criticisms that were made were probably fair,” Fuller said in an interview. The raw numbers he gathered indicated that the preschool slots went primarily to poorer areas of the city.

But the raw numbers only tell a part of the story, he says. When examining the number of preschool slots created in certain areas to the number of children who live there, Fuller says the city operates 61 preschool slots for every 100 4-year-olds who live in ZIP codes where the household income is below about $38,000. The next highest number of city-operated slots per 100 4-year-olds is 55 slots for the ZIP codes where the household income is between about $63,500 and $83,000.

For the most wealthy ZIP codes, where average household income is over $83,000, the city operates 29 universal preschool slots per 100 4-year-olds.

Fuller says his intent is to prompt a policy debate on the value of targeting preschool to children from low-income families, compared to creating a broad entitlement for all.

“I think de Blasio actually has a two-pronged policy strategy. I think he’s well-meaning, and I think he earnestly wants to address disparities in learning, but he wants to give the middle-class and the upper-middle class some goodies. It’s the balance that needs to be mulled over carefully,” he said.

Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the city department of education, said “this study is based on errors and false assumptions that no early-education expert would make.” For example, the report mixes universal pre-K slots with other programs operated through different funding streams when talking about the overall landscape of pre-K.

The city also doesn’t use Fuller’s method of calculating preschool slots by every 100 4-year-olds in a given ZIP code; both the city and the numbers in Fuller’s report agree that around 61 percent of the new slots went to ZIP codes where the household income was below $50,000.

The city’s focus is on expanding preschool to all children, Kaye said. “Every 4-year-old benefits from a high-quality educational experience, which is why we boosted the number of seats across the city,” she said. “Now, nearly two-thirds of free, full-day, high-quality pre-K seats are in neighborhoods below the city’s median income. We are expanding pre-K to every eligible 4-year-old, and we are committed to meeting this goal.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.