BRONX — Building on his success of Pre-K for all of the city’s 4-year-olds, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday a plan to provide free “full day” pre-K for all of the city’s 3-year-olds by 2021.
The program — called “3K for All” — will ramp up starting this September with roughly 11,000 children attending the city’s EarlyLearn programs, which serve the city’s low-income working families.
“It’s easy to say in a time of uncertainty stand back, be cautious, be timid,” de Blasio said. “That’s not our way. We believe the time is now.”
In September 2018, about 2,000 3-year-olds in two of the city’s poorest school districts — South Bronx’s District 7 and Ocean Hill/Brownsville’s District 23 — will be part of the program. Two more districts, yet to be determined, will be added each of the next two years until the programs goes citywide in 2021.
The city expects to spend $36 million on the pilot program and then plans to spend $177 million by fiscal year 2021 once the program is citywide.
While the city is committed to providing the program funding for eight districts, the citywide cost will be about $700 million in state and federal. De Blasio is hopeful he’ll be able to build a coalition to get funding from Albany, and he mentioned that even though federal funding is questionable right now, early childhood education is “one of the areas” that has seen increasing bipartisan support.
De Blasio cited a bevy of research supporting the importance of starting preschool earlier, and how doing so “magnifies” the positive impacts of education.
“The clock is ticking when it comes to the development of each young mind,” he said.
It will also be boon to parents, who spend more than $10,000 a year on childcare.
The mayor said rollout of the initiative will be more challenging than his Pre-K for all 4-year-olds program, and will take time to find and build new classroom space.
The city’s EarlyLearn programs have seen a brain drain of their most qualified teachers of 3-year-olds, as many have moved to spots teaching 4-year-olds since those positions are paid more under the Pre-K for all 4-year-old program. As the EarlyLearn program moves from the Administration for Children's Services to the Department of Education, teachers in these community based organizations are expected to see their salaries rise, officials noted.
De Blasio said 4,500 new teachers will be needed. The city will offer similar supports to these teachers as those in the program for 4-year-olds have, including instructional coaches and social workers.
Classes in the program will contain 15 students, compared to 18 for the city's universal pre-k program, and there will be two adults in the room, according to DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
About half of the classrooms are expected to be in public schools and half in early childhood education centers, officials said.
"We are going to invest a lot in getting the best teachers to do this work. We’re going to make it a very appealing situation and provide enough support," de Blasio said. "As we have changed the city’s priorities and focused on early childhood, it’s a growing field with a lot more support, a lot more compensation. There’s a lot going on here to make it more appealing."
While research suggests the benefits of starting pre-K sooner are stronger for low-income kids and those from disadvantaged backgrounds, children from middle class backgrounds benefit, too, said Pamela Morris, professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt, who has worked with the DOE on building the data analysis for the existing Pre-K.
“To do the downward extension to 3-year-olds is highly wise,” Morris said. “It gives kids the head start they need to be better prepared for school.”
Based on the existing program, she was confident the rollout would be successful.
“Most cities are barely able to invest in 4-year-olds,” Morris said. “When New York City did this, they decided to be big and bold.”