NEW YORK — Competition is heating up for free pre-K seats.
Parents can begin applying for the sought-after public school seats on Monday — but although there are thousands of spots available at hundreds of schools across the five boroughs for the fall of 2013, many families won't be lucky enough to win a seat.
The city's most popular pre-K programs — including P.S. 150 in TriBeCa and P.S. 971 in Sunset Park — turned away more than 95 percent of the 4-year-olds who applied in 2012, a trend that experts expect to continue as demand far outpaces supply.
"It was kind of like a leap of faith," said mom Annmarie Weiss, who was pleased that her child won a pre-K spot at P.S. 145 on the Upper West Side.
In Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, the number of pre-K applications has shot up at many schools during the past four years, while the number of seats has stayed the same.
“We applied to eight schools in three districts and didn’t get into any of them,” said Tanya Pierre, whose daughter now attends P.S. 11 in Fort Greene. “Finally two weeks into the school year a space opened up — we got lucky.”
Click here for DNAinfo.com New York's NYC Public Schools Guide, which features neighborhood-by-neighborhood roundups of public pre-K programs.
Pre-K applications for this fall are now available and allow families to rank up to 12 choices. Parents can apply to any pre-K program in the city but have the best chance of being admitted to their zoned school and schools in their district, or any school where they already have a child enrolled.
All children who will turn 4 years old this year are eligible to apply. Applications are due April 5.
The Department of Education made some big changes to pre-K this year, including adding 4,000 full-day seats in high-need neighborhoods, replacing half-day pre-K programs that ran for just two-and-a-half hours either in the morning or afternoon.
In all, the city plans to offer about 20,000 full-day pre-K spots and 23,000 half-day spots this fall.
Another major change this year is that children who attend pre-K at any school in the city will have priority for admissions to kindergarten at the same school the following fall. This boost will be particularly helpful in schools that regularly hold kindergarten admissions lotteries, including those in the Lower East Side's District 1.
Education experts say pre-K is essential for young kids to learn the skills they need to succeed in school — and not just math and spelling.
"Preschool teaches children how to share, how to talk to one another and express their feelings, if they're angry, if they're sad," said Maris Krasnow, clinical associate professor of early childhood education at New York University's Steinhardt School.
"They're taught to use their words and not to hit."
In addition to public school pre-K programs, there are also hundreds of community organizations that offer free or affordable pre-K classes. Each organization runs its own admissions process.
With reporting by Emily Frost and Janet Upadhye