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City Finds Enough Space for Pre-K Seats but Still Needs Funding for Program

By  Amy Zimmer and Ben Fractenberg | February 25, 2014 2:42pm 

 It’s funding that remains a hurdle, not real estate, Mayor Bill de Blasio said of his pre-K plan.
It’s funding that remains a hurdle, not real estate, Mayor Bill de Blasio said of his pre-K plan.
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Shutterstock/Diego Cervo

MANHATTAN — Hundreds of public schools and community-based organizations have reached out to the Department of Education asking to host pre-K programs this fall, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farinña announced Tuesday — even though the cash for the program is still a subject of dispute.

The Department of Education has received proposals for about 29,000 new full-day pre-K seats — far exceeding the goal of 21,000 additional full-day seats that de Blasio set for September 2014.

“We know that our plan can be implemented on Day 1,” Carmen Fariña said in a statement on Tuesday. “Students need it, families are clamoring for it, and we have the capacity to provide it. We are ready, we just need the dollars to get it done.”

De Blasio's plan calls for more than 53,000 total free full-day pre-K seats in September 2014, including existing seats, with the goal of providing 73,250 seats by the 2015 school year.

The DOE received proposals from 650 sites at community-based organizations across the five boroughs — representing roughly 20,000 potential seats — and 280 public schools submitted applications for another 9,000 seats, officials said.

“We can change the lives of tens of thousands of children. We can do it in a matter of months,” de Blasio added. “Hundreds of school principals and community leaders — the people who already do this work — have come forward with detailed plans.”

Nearly 60 percent of the schools applying are in neighborhoods with a significant shortage of pre-K seats and an equal proportion of them are in low-income areas, officials noted.

Programs applying to provide UPK were tasked with identifying space and creating a comprehensive plan for ramping up in September, including how they will identify, train and support their teaching staff. The DOE expects to have stringent standards, and department officials have already begun reviewing applications and visiting sites to ensure programs will deliver quality programs, school officials said.

The political fight over how to fund universal pre-K continues between de Blasio, who would like to tax families earning more than $500,000 a year, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who put forth his own plan that would contribute less money than the city’s plan and would not provide the dedicated funding stream that many advocates have called for.

"You cannot start a program and do it for one year and then shut it down. If we do this, we do it for keeps," de Blasio told reporters Tuesday before visiting a pre-K class at P.S. 130 in Chinatown.

Even though the DOE is expected to release next week its annual list of sites offering free pre-K seats — with enrollment for families running from March 3 through April 1 — it will not finalize decisions about new pre-K programs at public schools until March 31. That means that if these programs get the green light, they will not be listed in time for the enrollment period.

The department has a team of 80 staffers from its Office of Early Childhood Education reviewing applications from community-based organizations and conducting site visits through the end of March so that sites that meet quality standards can begin budget negotiations in April. Those decisions will be finalized in May or June, said a report released by the department.

Even if some of these new applicants end up not being approved or if they receive fewer seats than requested, the DOE said it has more options.

Based on a survey of 500 community-based organizations with current contracts for half-day seats, many programs would be willing to convert to full-day seats, potentially adding up to 8,000 more seats, the report said. The department is also pursuing other options for space, including at public libraries, public housing complexes and parochial school buildings.