State education officials want to expand prekindergarten to include all of the state’s high-need students within five years and, eventually, all 4-year-olds.
While the state allocates money each year to support the “universal pre-K” program, the state Education Department estimates only around 65 percent of eligible 4-year-olds — about 120,000 kids — are enrolled in prekindergarten classes. It would take $280 million to fully fund districts that don’t receive state funding for prekindergarten classes.
Education officials at Monday’s Board of Regents meeting outlined their broader vision for achieving truly universal prekindergarten. But they tempered this year’s budget proposal, calling for $20 million to expand prekindergarten classes next year and investing another $17 million in a “foundation” of regional support centers, developmental screenings, shared data systems and experimental programs.
“As we roll this out, we believe the best approach will be to look specifically at 4-year-olds that are high-need,” said Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who has been critical of past proposals by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to expand prekindergarten funding to 3-year-olds, despite the thousands of 4-year-olds not yet in a class.
The $20 million budget recommendation would establish 2,000 new slots in pre-kindergarten classes, allowing the state to accommodate around 70 percent of eligible 4-year-olds.
The proposal also includes plans to establish regional early learning technical centers, establish universal screening for young kids, build a new data system for tracking the academic and developmental progress of kids and experiment with different program types.
Board members appeared to struggle with how ambitious to be with budget recommendations, given the state’s looming budget deficit. Regent Roger Tilles proposed increasing the recommendation for expanding pre-K spots to $25 million, but others opposed tinkering with the carefully-planned $20 million proposal.
Here’s a look at the Regents’ early education recommendations:
- $20 million to create 2,000 new pre-K slots targeted to high-needs students.
- $300,000 to study the cost of providing quality pre-K programs.
- $6 million to pilot programs that focus on educating special education students alongside general education students in pre-K classes.
- $2 million to establish five regional early learning technical centers, which would provide training and other support to early education providers.
- $2 million to target family and community involvement programs in high-need communities.
- $3 million to expand use of QUALITYStarsNY, a program that evaluates and scores early education providers and helps support improvements.
- $2.5 million to adopt teacher training programs that focus on responding to students’ cultural and language differences.
- $500,000 to establish a data system that would include information from student screenings, provide access to parents about their students needs and incorporate existing data systems.
- $700,000 to begin work on a developmental screening process for all kids from birth to 8 years old.