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New York City Braces for Major Prekindergarten Expansion

In the next few weeks, New York City will see thousands of 4-year-olds enroll in preschool, a major initiative championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and policy analysts are opining that the universal preschool program comes with high stakes for the mayor. 

"There are several ways this could go poorly, and all of them would end up on the front pages because of how much [de Blasio] has invested in this," David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs, told the Associated Press"But if they have the ability to pull this off, it cuts against the argument that the city hasn't been ready to roll things out ... and that would be a huge win."

The 50,000 preschoolers expected to start classes Sept. 5 will be enrolled both in city-run programs and in community-based centers, such as day cares and churches. The New York Times has explored how some centers based in churches and synagogues walk a fine line between serving children (and receiving government funds for doing so) and maintaining the faith-based elements of their programs. According to the Times, the city has attempted to allow some latitude, but its guidance has raised more questions for faith-based organizations. From the article:  

Rather than state simply, as other municipalities have, that all religious instruction is prohibited, the city's guidelines say that religious texts may be taught if they are "presented objectively as part of a secular program of instruction." Learning about one's culture is permitted, city officials say, but religious instruction is not. This provision has set off debates in the offices of many schools, particularly Orthodox yeshivas, about just what is permissible. Many students in these schools are from deeply religious homes where the line between the cultural and religious is not only blurred, but absent.

The Daily News in New York has taken a closer look at the community-based programs, publishing a story May 31 that found 39,000 health-code violations at 1,100 day-care providers between 2009 and 2013. Of those centers, 16 were receiving city funds at the time. The city has since sentsent inspectors on hundreds of visits to community centers that were vying to be a part of the prekindergarten expansion. The violations have dropped, city officials told the Daily News. "We have been working all summer to make sure every single classroom is ready," Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, who's overseeing the city's rollout of universal prekindergarten, told the paper. 


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