The Road to Universal Pre-K in the Empire State

Oct 24, 2013

By Christine Johnson-Staub

After decades of experience with a pre-kindergarten system that works for children in some communities and not for others, the Center for Children's Initiatives and the Campaign for Educational Equity in New York State are recommending a path that would make pre-k available to all children.  Making Pre-Kindergarten Truly Universal: a Statewide Roadmap, a report released today, proposes making pre-kindergarten part of the state public school financing formula. New York's current state programs provide pre-k dollars to only 40% of the state's districts, and fail to reach at least 30,000 high-needs four-year-olds.

Decades of research have shown that high-quality pre-k can be instrumental in helping low-income and vulnerable children achieve better social and academic outcomes. Most recently, a Stanford study reported in the New York Times found that children in disadvantaged households may hear as many as 30 million fewer words by the age of three than their counterparts in higher-income homes. That "language gap," which sets lower-income children up for less-successful experiences in school, can be ameliorated by participation in a high-quality preschool classroom. Findings such as these have informed the development of state pre-k programs across the country as well as the Obama Administration's proposal to increase access to pre-k and other high-quality early learning programs through federal investments.

The recommendations for statewide universal pre-k in New York include several key policy elements: a phased-in approach to universal access, beginning with four-year-olds in low-income districts; funding levels that provide for full-day, high-quality pre-k services, including comprehensive services, infrastructure, and adequately compensated teachers; and a mixed delivery system that includes public school, community-based child care, and Head Start programs.

States use numerous models to fund and deliver pre-kindergarten. High-quality, developmentally appropriate pre-k that meets the needs of low-income children and working parents and that includes comprehensive services, a mixed delivery approach and sufficient funding to support the increased education and compensation of teachers across early childhood settings is a critically important component of a birth-to-five early childhood system. In New York and across the country far too few children have access to such a program.  

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