Expansion of Universal Pre-K in New York Going Slower than Expected

Jun 22, 2014

Fewer than one-fourth of New York School districts are ready to participate in expanding Universal Pre-K.
Fewer than one-fourth of New York School districts are ready to participate in expanding Universal Pre-K.
Credit Americanprogress.org

  The enthusiasm to expand universal Pre-Kindergarten education across the state is fizzling over money issues…even though the Governor promised a blank check to districts earlier this year.  Now education advocates are saying the effort to get more four-year-olds into full-day preschool might need some retooling.

  It was just this past March during budget talks when expanding Universal Pre-K to all new York families who wanted it was a hot topic.

"As long-term advocates that had supported pre-K we were excited that it was getting so much attention Jasmine Gripper who heads the early childhood campaign at the Alliance for Quality Education.  "The governor was supporting pre-K and doing a bigger initiative than he proposed last year.  Everyone was excited that this was happening; everyone wants to see it be successful.  School Districts would like to do that, but it's really difficult."

What’s making it difficult is money.  School Districts who want to add more slots of Pre-K…and expand from half-day to full can get reimbursed for the costs.  But Gripper explains they have to come up with the money – to hire teachers, develop curricula, and get materials in advance.  They’ll get reimbursed by the end of the year.  She’s hearing from superintendents that they just don’t have the funds.

"School districts have already completed their budgets, have already had them voted on by the community, so those budgets are done.  With a tight K-12 budget and already having spent down their reserves school districts don't have many options for finding the money to put into this program at such a late date." 

What they’ve found is only 123 districts outside New York City submitted letters of intent to participate…while more than 550 did not.  That’s even after most school leaders expressed support and wanted to expand.  Locally Syracuse, Onondaga, Lyncourt and Jordan Elbridge are preparing to expand their Pre-K offerings.