Pre-K expands, but demand remains

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Despite increased number of seats, some parents are frustrated in finding placements


  • Several elected officials, parents and their children attended a Sunday rally hosted by Council Member Ben Kallos, center, seeking increased access to the city’s pre-K program. They included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and city Comptroller Scott Stringer, either side of Kallos, and city Public Advocate Leticia James, foreground right. Photo courtesy of Kallos’ office.

Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out a new initiative last week to offer universal pre-kindergarten to all New York City 3-year-olds, though kinks in the original program have yet to place all 4-year-olds in their preferred schools. Before the mayor’s announcement, Council Member Ben Kallos already had a rally planned for April 30 to demand additional seats for 4-year-olds within his district. “Pre-K for all must include the Upper East Side,” Kallos said at his event. “Three hundred 4-year-olds are being told that they have to take a commute down to the financial district.”

There has been progress on the Upper East Side, however. Since 2013, seats available for 4-year-olds enrolling in pre-K have increased fourfold, from about 150 to about 600. This school year, though, 900 4-year-olds applied to fill them. As of 2014, more than 2,700 children in that age group lived on the Upper East Side, some of whom choose private school. Numerous elected officials attended Kallos’ rally, including city Comptroller Scott Stringer and state Senator Liz Krueger, all of whom echoed Kallos’ call for de Blasio to keep his promise.

In a press release, de Blasio emphasized the “successful model” of his original push for universal pre-K. “We are doubling down with free, full-day, high-quality 3-K for All for our three-year-olds,” he said. “This extra year of education will provide our children with a level of academic and social development that they cannot get later on, while at the same time, alleviating some of the strain New York City’s working families face today.”

Will Mantell, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said in a statement that the agency would “continue to take steps to add more seats and meet local demand.”

“There is a free, full-day, high-quality pre-K seat for every four-year-old in New York City, and our pre-K enrollment specialists will work with families — across the Upper East Side and all five boroughs — to find the best pre-K seat for their child,” he said.

A year ago, Kallos had just helped secure 60 more seats for his district. Since then there has been a net loss of 22 seats due to decreased class sizes at several locations. Until now, Kallos said, he considered officials at the Department of Education “good partners.” He now feels that they have “stopped working in good faith.”

Kallos also expressed frustration that the agency’s statistics measuring the number of pre-K applications and available seats are difficult to track. He hopes the city will require developers to create school seats when they want to build. He also advocated for using more private childcare providers. Kallos, though, fully supports expanded early childcare and has long been pushing for it in the City Council.

On Monday, a DOE spokesperson said the department plans to issue a request for proposals this summer for childcare providers who could offer more seats starting in fall 2018. They are also negotiating with the School Construction Authority to secure more seats.

Irina Goldman, an Upper East Side mother of two who attended the rally, said that despite applying to eight programs in her neighborhood, she was “wait-listed in the hundreds at all of them.” Goldman’s 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter was placed at a school on Washington Street, a 45-minute commute. “Our zoned school is telling us ‘we only have one class, and you don’t fit into that class,’” she said. “All the other schools are telling us ‘please call your zoned school.’ I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.”

The mayor’s expanded universal pre-K program promises to have all of the city’s 11,000 3-year-olds in full-day pre-K by 2021. His administration will roll out the program this fall, starting in Brownsville and the South Bronx. According to the press release, 3-K For All is expected to cost the city $177 million by 2021, though it cites research findings concluding that “every dollar invested in high-quality early education saves taxpayers as much as $13 long-term.”

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at

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