2008-01-09 / Editorials

Free Up Universal Pre-K $

Universal pre-kindergarten is the law in New York state. But although $446 million has been allocated for pre-K services statewide, $88 million is still unused. Of the $249 million sent to New York City by the state this year for pre-kindergarten, $25 million is not being spent, according to state school officials. The situation is likely to remain unchanged, advocates and school districts charged with administering the program maintain.

The deadline for enrolling children in pre-kindergarten in New York City was Friday, December 21. Total enrollment so far amounts to some 58,000 children. Approximately 10,000 of that number were enrolled in the three-month period of September through December. While 58,000 children enrolled in pre-K in New York City is a commendable number, it is still 17,000 children short of the city's goal of 75,000 children participating in universal pre-K programs in the five boroughs. Red tape seems to be the major factor keeping those 17,000 children out of citywide universal pre-K programs.

Provisions of the law that required the state to spend $438 million on pre-K programs dictate that the funds can finance only half a day of pre-kindergarten- two and one-half hours a day for each fouryear old. Exactly how much each district can spend on each child is also limited by the law, which also prevents school districts from using the money to cover such basic costs as transportation and building space. Finding classrooms and the children to attend classes in them has been a struggle for every participating school district in the state.

Studies have shown that children enrolled in pre-K classes are more ready to start kindergarten and regular school and do better throughout their academic lives. The socialization process they undergo also better prepares them to deal with the person-to-person interactions that are part of life, in school and out. It should be obvious by now that universal pre-K is a sensible and reasonable investment in the future.

The state of New York must find a way to cut through the red tape and eliminate the layers of bureaucracy that are stifling a universal pre-K plan, the benefits of which are indisputable. The future of the schoolchildren of this city and state is inextricably bound up with our own.

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