Early Childhood

New York City Kicks Off School Year With Massive Prekindergarten Expansion

By Christina A. Samuels — September 04, 2014 2 min read
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More than 50,000 4-year-olds started prekindergarten in New York City Sept. 4—more than double the 20,000 who attended pre-K last year—as part of an historic expansion of early-childhood programming that is being considered one of the defining moments of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first year in office.

The preschoolers in the free, universal program joined 1.1 million students in New York City who returned to school the same day.

“We are building a new and better foundation for our children and our city. This is a monumental moment in the lives of tens of thousands of children and their families,” said the mayor in a speech commemorating the expansion, before he visited new prekindergarten programs in Brooklyn and in Queens. “We fought and we pushed so hard because we believed our families could not and should not wait. And today, the dream of Pre-K for All becomes a reality in New York City.”

De Blasio had made early childhood a cornerstone of his campaign for office, first proposing a tax on the city’s highest earners. Albany lawmakers eventually voted to provide $300 million to the city for the effort (the rest of the state received $40 million to expand early-childhood programming, as well.)

New York-based news organizations have been covering the expansion closely. The New York Times quoted de Blasio saying that the expansion is “a dream we’ve had for a long time, finally coming to fruition.” From the story:

In Harlem, as tiny students arrived at Grant Day Care Center, the mood was expectant and happy for parents, who seemed to have had an easy time signing up. "It's been very easy. We applied in April, and received a letter of acceptance soon after from the [New York Department of Education]," said Daisy Carate, who escorted her daughter to prekindergarten. "The D.O.E. even called me to ask if I had enrolled yet, which I thought was very helpful." But for Frank Alvarado, the program's executive director, the process was more stressful. On Thursday, only 18 seats had been filled of the 25 available. Mr. Alvarado worried he would have trouble reaching full capacity.

There was a rocky start for some early-childhood programs. Nine pre-K providers did not open and 36 others did not open on time, out of about 1,700 centers across the city. The Associated Press reported that safety and integrity concerns were behind the decision to revoke contracts at the nine centers, which were to serve 265 students. The 36 centers that will have postponed openings serve about 900 children.

This year’s doubling of prekindergarten is the first step in a two-part process. The city says that next year it will expand again to provide 73,000 seats for children. As with the current expansion, the seats will be offered by city schools and by private providers whose programs will be overseen by city agencies.

Photo: Hawadiane Doucoure, right, and Aminata Diallo watch their children’s prekindergarten class at Grant Day Care Center in New York City on Sept. 4. More than 50,000 children attended their first day of prekindergarten Thursday as the first students in the city’s expanded program.-- Karsten Moran/The New York Times

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