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New York Pre-K Tops Out At Over 68,500 Children

6-NYC-PreK-students-hallway-blog.jpgNew York City's universal prekindergarten program has topped out at 68,547 4-year-olds, more than 3,000 of whom enrolled after the official start of the school year—an increase that the city attributes to a strong push to enroll children who live in underserved parts of the city.

New York had about 20,000 full-day, full-year preschool seats in the 2013-14 school year. To handle the influx of thousands more children, New York converted many half-day seats to full-day, created prekindergarten centers around the city, and partnered with community-based organizations to offer more seats.

Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a promise of universal preschool and convinced the state legislature to provide $300 million to help launch it.

"Parents have voted with their feet. Pre-K for All is now part of the lives of tens of thousands of children," said de Blasio in a statement. "It will only get bigger and better from here." 

In October, enrollment stood at about 65,000, as I wrote in this article examining New York's preschool expansion effort. But city employees were still actively recruiting families, with multilingual outreach specialists working the phones and the computers, directing families to conveniently-located centers. The city said that nearly 90 percent of the increase in enrollments since the first day of school is in ZIP codes with household incomes below the city's median of about $51,000 per year. 

The city is stressing the point of its outreach to poorer neighborhoods in response to one of its persistent critics, Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Fuller has said that the new preschool seats have been spread evenly around the city, but in his view, children from less-affluent families should have been first in line.

The city has said that its goal has always been for a universal program, and that it has come very close to meeting that goal: The number of children enrolled in prekindergarten as of December is about 5,000 shy of the 74,000 kindergarten students that were enrolled as of December.

The latest numbers haven't changed Fuller's view: "The enrollment rates [among income levels] are pretty even—like any good non-progressive entitlement," he said in an e-mail (emphasis Fuller's).

New York Plans Early Start for Prekindergarten Enrollment

The city has moved up the application timeline for families who want to start enroll their children in prekindergarten in 2016. They will be able to apply starting Jan. 25, more than a month earlier than the application launch in 2015. Families will receive their offer letters at the beginning of May, also more than a month earlier than last year. 

Photo: Preschoolers Liezel, 4, left, and Ryan, 4, walk the hall at a prekindergarten center in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood in Brooklyn. To accommodate expanded enrollment, New York City places children in new pre-K centers, traditional schools, and community-based organizations.—Mark Abramson for Education Week.

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