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Analysis: Wealthier N.Y.C. Boroughs Saw the Most New Preschool Seats

UPDATED

The rapid addition of 25,000 new preschool slots to New York City—part of an election pledge from Mayor Bill de Blasio—went disproportionately to more-affluent neighborhoods and boroughs, according to an analysis from the University of California, Berkeley's Institute of Human Development. 

The independent study, led by Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy, compared the number of prekindergarten slots located at each New York City public school between 2013 and this September. It drew on listings published by the city's Department of Education and its Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which inspects community-based preschools.

The report found that prekindergarten rose by 36 percent in Queens, which has a median household of $53,054 according to recent U.S. census data, and 64 percent in Staten Island, which has a median income of $70,560. That compares to an increase in preschool slots of 9.8 percent in the Bronx, which has a median income of $32,568. 

De Blasio has pledged to make preschool universal in the city, and received $300 million from the state earlier this year in order to do so. (The rest of the districts in the state split $40 million to expand preschool.) New York City added more than 23,000 full-day slots this year, through a combination of public school expansions and growth in community-based organizations (CBOs) that provide preschool programs under city monitoring.

A New York City spokesman disputed the findings in the Washington Post, saying that poor neighborhoods in the city already had a high number of preschool seats. Fuller counters that his study found that the number of school-based and CBO-based preschool slots in the city are essentially the same in affluent boroughs (those with a low-income population of up to 20 percent) and in poor boroughs (those with a low-income population of 60 percent or higher). 

"About 25 years of research shows young children from low-income families benefit much more from quality pre-K than do children from middle-class or affluent households," Fuller said. "Mayor de Blasio has argued that pre-K is his leading policy for reducing inequalities in New York City. We don't understand how expanding pre-K in middle class and affluent communities is going to reduce disparities in early learning."

[UPDATE (Oct. 9): The New York's mayor's office is pushing back hard against the the findings in this study, saying that 67 percent of the city's new preschool seats are in ZIP codes below the city's median household income of about $51,000. Wiley Norvell, a City Hall spokesman, said that the study is "based on errors and false assumptions that no New Yorker or early-education expert would ever make. Calling Queens a wealthy borough—when we're serving neighborhoods like Flushing and Jamaica with average incomes lower than $20,000 year—is not just misleading, it's offensive. Our pre-K expansion is reaching thousands of low-income families in its first year and is providing this free, life-changing opportunity to families in greatest need. In reality, the real challenge in our first year has been boosting the number of seats in many middle-class neighborhoods—where district schools are at capacity and community-based centers are few. That's something we're addressing as we work to provide pre-K for every four-year old next year."]

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