NYC Pre-K Expansion Struggles in Overcrowded Boroughs

April 3, 2014 6:03 am Last Updated: April 3, 2014 10:52 am

NEW YORK—Over 3,000 new prekindergarten seats just became available in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday. With an application deadline for the first wave drawing near, most applicants, especially from overcrowded boroughs, won’t have much chance until May, when another round of spaces open up.

Pre-K is de Blasio’s signature initiative. There are about 73,000 eligible children in the city playing musical chairs for some 32,000 full-day seats.

De Blasio planned to add 20,000 more seats by September. But the “first step, of course, was to win the funding,” he said Tuesday. He thanked legislators in Albany for budgeting $1.5 billion over the next five years for the program.

“Now that the money is secured, we started this very day,” de Blasio said. The first wave of expansion adds some 3,000 seats and extends about 1,200 more from half-day to full-day service. All those seats are provided by public schools.

The mayor encouraged parents of children born in 2010 to quickly apply for the new seats, since the deadline for signing up for public school pre-K is April 23.

Yet not every child will have a chance to get a seat, as the expansion wrestles with severe overcrowding in some areas.

Last year there were nearly 1,000 Queens’ children on a waiting list for kindergarten. That is about 50 percent more than in Brooklyn, and almost twice as many as in Manhattan. While Brooklyn got almost 1,100 new pre-K seats, Queens got less than 700.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has said that in crowded areas the city will depend more on community organizations, who also operate pre-K classes. De Blasio also promised the creation of pre-K centers that would provide the service for larger neighborhoods. It will take time though, the mayor noted.

Public school seats may be more desirable for some parents.

While the city’s Education Department officials ensured parents the quality standards are the same for every provider, pre-K at public schools have a little higher education requirement for teachers, and school buildings usually have tighter security.

Also, parents can apply for up to 12 public school pre-K programs at once through the Education Department website. To apply for pre-K at community organizations, parents have to contact them one by one.

Long Way to Go

To fulfill the mayor’s promise, the administration still has a lot of work to do. Deducting the first wave of expansion, close to 9,000 more full-day pre-K seats should pop-up by September, all provided by community organizations. Also, over 10,000 half-day seats should be expanded to full-day.

Another 13,000 full-day seats in community organizations currently provide just two and half hours of pre-K education. The rest is only daycare. All of those should be expanded to full-fledged pre-K by September.

Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said the new pre-K seats provided by community organizations will become available in May.

New and Expanded Pre-K Seats vs. Overcrowding*:
Borough New Seats Expanded Seats Students in Overcrowded Schools
Staten Island 162 342 67%
Queens 676 558 65%
Bronx 694 0 53%
Manhattan 414 180 42%
Brooklyn 1098 144 41%
*based on latest available elementary school data (school year 2011 to 2012)