More than 50,000 kids gained access to pre-K under de Blasio: How big a deal?

Advocates of universal access to pre-K tout such programs as socio-economic equalizers because they remove financial barriers to early childhood education.

Susan Watts/Reuters/File
Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray (l.) host a roundtable discussion about universal pre-K and after school programs with parent bloggers, Rebecca Levey of KidzVuz (second r.) and Anna Fader of Mommy Poppins (r.), in the Blue Room of City Hall, in New York, March 7, 2014.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's $300 million expansion of the city's Pre-K for All program has enabled an additional 50,000 children access to free, high-quality pre-kindergarten, the mayor announced Friday.

Advocates of universal access to pre-K tout such programs as socio-economic equalizers because they remove financial barriers to early childhood education, which is increasingly being seen as vital preparation for success later in elementary and secondary school.

“The historic number of students enrolled in free, full-day, high-quality pre-K means that [more children] are getting a crucial year of problem solving and vocabulary building that will put them on the path to long term success,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

New York City, and New York state as a whole, has one of the highest pre-K enrollment rates in the country, exceeding enrollment rates for all but six states on a list that also includes Texas and Florida.

“Parents have voted with their feet. Pre-K for All is now part of the lives of tens of thousands of children,” Mayor de Blasio said in a press release. “It will only get bigger and better from here. We’re proud Pre-K for All is performing on a level with some of the most highly-regarded programs in the nation, and we are going to use these assessments to strengthen centers even more.”

Critics of Mr. de Blasio’s plan contend that while it is noble that the plan has helped get thousands of children from low-income families into pre-K, it has also given the same free education options to children from wealthier families who may not need as much support.

“We just don’t have the evidence to back why we would heavily finance pre-K in middle class and upper class communities,” Dr. Bruce Fuller, a professor at University of California, Berkeley, told ProPublica in September.

The de Blasio administration maintains that offering the program to all families in New York has not diminished the city's ability to expand access for low-income families.

Enrollment in the city's pre-K programs surged particularly among the city’s poorest children, according to US Census data. Politico New York found that 26,865 four-year-olds from the lowest-income quartile have a spot in pre-K this year, compared to 7,587 children from the city’s highest-income quartile.

"With a particular rise in the enrollment of children from low-income families, it is clear that the Pre-K program is reaching our City’s most vulnerable youth, and bringing them into a safe, healthy environment that encourages the development of intellect," said City Council Member Chaim Deutsch, in a statement.

The application period for applying to New York City’s free pre-K programs opens on January 25 next year, more than a month earlier than last year, as part of an effort to continue expanding enrollment.  

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