INWOOD — An Uptown preschool that has been in limbo over funding for its pre-kindergarten program learned Tuesday that the city will subsidize classes for the coming year — a decision that comes only a few weeks before the start of the school year.
The city provided enough funding for 66 students to attend free half-day pre-K classes at the YM and YWHA of Washington Heights and Inwood on Nagle Avenue for the 2015-16 school year, the program’s director said.
“We’re just really thrilled to have gotten the contract finally,” said Susan Herman, Director of Early Childhood Services for the Y. “Our goal is to serve the community, and this is what they want.”
The city's eleventh-hour decision to fund the program comes after a summer filled with anxiety for both parents and educators over the fate of the program.
The Y has received city funding for the program for more than a decade. However, because the mayor’s universal pre-K initiative favors full-day over half-day programs, the future of the program was called into question this year.
After pressure from parents, education advocates and elected officials, the mayor’s office announced in early May that it would solicit proposals for a limited number of half-day programs.
Herman had been waiting ever since to find out if her program would make the cut.
While she was excited by the news of the funding, she said that getting confirmation only three weeks before school is scheduled to begin has taken a toll.
“Many of our families found other places to go in the meantime because they couldn’t afford to come here without the UPK subsidies,” she said. “Now we’re in a position where it’s just a few weeks before school starts and we’re having to recruit families to come back to us.”
Herman noted that about 40 of the 66 seats have been spoken for at this point. However, in previous years, the program was full long before mid-August, she said.
Jeff Morrison — who has a 4-year-old boy who attended pre-school classes at the Y, as well as a daughter who went to pre-k there — said the prolonged wait to find out the fate of the pre-K program has been stressful.
“It created a lot of anxiety,” said the Washington Heights resident. “My wife and I talk about it every day, like, ‘What are we going to do if the Y doesn’t come through?’”
Morrison said that he supports the mayor’s plan to offer full-day pre-k for those who want it, but noted that the initiative has had unintended negative consequences for families like his.
“We were being put in a position… where we might be forced to leave the [school] community we had been developing for several years,” he said, noting he breathed a huge sigh of relief when he learned the program had been funded.
Maurice Michaane, who has a son going into the Y’s pre-school for 3-year-olds, is worried about how the city’s last-minute decision could affect the long-term future of the pre-K program in terms of attracting new students.
“Right now, in the fall, is when people are going to look at schools for next year,” said the Washington Heights resident. “They may wonder, ‘If this is such a great program, why are so many seats open?’”
Michaane said he feels an institution like the Y, with such a long history in the community, should have received more consideration from the Department of Education.
“The Y is a really vibrant place, and now through no fault of its own it could look less so,” he said.
The DOE awarded half-day contracts to 118 programs for a total of 4,500 seats for the coming school year — a significant decrease from the 12,000 half-day seats offered last year.
Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said the city would still continue to emphasize full-day programs.
“As we have stated, we are continuing a modest half-day pre-K program — but we urge all parents to first consider a strong full-day program as they look for the best option to meet their child’s needs,” she said.