Op-Ed: With Pre-K, City’s supply must meet demand

When study after study proves that Pre-Kindergarten is critical to a child’s future success, it’s simply unacceptable that our City only offers Pre-K seats to a fraction of the children who need it. In a city where 1-in-3 children lives in poverty, this shortage only perpetuates the status quo and holds kids back. That’s not the mark of a progressive city ahead of the curve.

A new report released by my office reveals that demand for Pre-Kindergarten seats far outstrips supply in every borough. Applications for Pre-K seats in Department of Education schools exceed the number of available seats—3.5-to-1 in the Bronx, 4-to-1 in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and roughly 5-to-1 in Manhattan and Queens.

District 20 in Brooklyn, which includes Bay Ridge, has the greatest deficit of all, with more than 8 applicants for every available slot. (To make matters even worse, only one-third of seats in District 20 are full-day.) To put this into perspective, the acceptance rate for District 20 falls below that of both Harvard and Yale. College football players have a greater chance of getting drafted into the NFL than our children have of getting into a public early education program. Something’s clearly wrong with this picture.

Brooklyn’s District 20 is closely followed by Manhattan’s Districts 2 and 3, Brooklyn’s District 15, and Queens’ Districts 26 and 24—which all had more than 7 applicants per seat. Because of these odds, parents struggle to secure a seat for their child at their preferred program, or fail to secure any spot at all.

For working parents, securing the right seat is critical to starting a child on the right educational track and holding a full-time job. The right seat makes the difference between a convenient program down the street and one that requires an unworkable commute. It’s the difference between a program that provides a full day of Pre-K and an insufficient half day that doesn’t match the demands of today’s parents, many of whom now work more and come home later than in the past.

In October, I proposed a plan to provide high-quality, full-day Pre-Kindergarten to every child in New York City, including 48,000 four-year olds who receive only an inadequate half-day of schooling or none whatsoever. The plan would also fund quality after-school programs for middle-school students between 3 and 6 p.m. on weekdays, keeping kids on-task and out of trouble. To finance this expansion, I called for an income surcharge on households earning more than $500,000 per year, which would yield $532 million in new revenue. If you take a moment to consider what we can achieve with this kind of transformation, the investment is worth every penny.

We can’t continue to be a city where only the lucky few have access to early education, and where working parents have to roll the dice every year, hoping they can secure a seat. Our kids’ education shouldn’t be left up to chance. It’s 2013—and it’s time for truly universal Pre-K in New York City.

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