City Opening 4,000 Full-Day Pre-K Seats in High-Need Neighborhoods

By Jill Colvin on September 24, 2012 4:13pm 

A pre-K student at the Young Diplomats Magnet Academy.
A pre-K student at the Young Diplomats Magnet Academy.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

MIDTOWN — The city is planning to swap 4,000 half-day pre-kindergarten seats for full-day slots in high-need neighborhoods, the Department of Education announced Monday.

The DOE will spend $20 million to boost the total number of full-day pre-K spots from 16,000 to 20,000 seats by next year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced during NBC’s Education Nation summit in Midtown Monday morning.

In exchange, the city will cut the number of half-day slots — which offer classes that last only two-and-a-half hours — from 27,000 to 23,000.

“More and more research points to the importance of early childhood education in closing the achievement gap and helping kids of all backgrounds succeed academically,” Bloomberg told reporters after his speech at the main New York Public Library branch beside Bryant Park.

The plan is part of a growing effort by the city to increase enrollment in highly coveted early education programs, which have faced huge demand in recent years, prompting wait lists and admission rates that rival Ivy League schools.

But officials said many parents, especially in low-income neighborhoods, fail to enroll their kids. Part of the reason, advocates say, is that half-day sessions throw too many obstacles at working parents who need to make arrangements to drop off or pick up their kids in the middle of the day.

“The lack of full-day options for families is often a strong contributing factor to low enrollment,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who added that, citywide, 7,500 kids are not enrolling in any kind of pre-K program, with the lowest enrollment in the neediest neighborhoods.

The new seats will be concentrated in high-need areas that have a large number of students receiving free lunches and low student achievement rates, he said.

But exactly where the new classes will be housed remains uncertain, troubling advocates including Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, which advocates for smaller class sizes.

Mayor Bloomberg speaks at NBC’s Education Nation Sept. 24, 2012.
Mayor Bloomberg speaks at NBC’s Education Nation Sept. 24, 2012.
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Mayor's Office/Spencer T Tucker

The DOE said that some of the new classes will be located in classrooms where half-day programs are currently held, while others are expected to be run by community-based organizations outside of public schools — though the exact breakdown is not clear.

Haimson said adding classes in existing schools will "undoubtedly lead to even more overcrowding, longer kindergarten wait lists and larger classes," potentially "undoing any good that would otherwise result from expanded pre-K."

The DOE has previously chosen to cancel pre-K classes to make room for kids in higher grades at crowded schools.

In addition to the new full-day classes, the DOE announced plans to open a new private early childhood campus called Educare, which is funded by the Buffett family, and will serve children from six weeks to 5 years old.

The DOE is hoping to open the school in 2013 at P.S. 41 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and has promised $10 million in capital funding to renovate the building, including adding new observation rooms and spaces large enough for group teaching.

The new school, which is expected to open in 2013, would serve 115 to 135 kids, Walcott said.

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