Today, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio doubled-down on his widely-praised Pre-K for all, announcing the launch of a new 3-K Preschool program for three-year-olds.
Proud to announce 3-K for All in New York City. We will begin serving families next school year – 2017 fall – and we will grow from there. pic.twitter.com/qub1xAz6uU
— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 24, 2017
What happened with Pre-K for All?
When Mayor de Blasio ran for mayor in 2013, one of his most ambitious plans was the creation of free, universal pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds in New York City.
The effort ran into some early resistance as Mayor de Blasio fought, unsuccessfully, for higher taxes on the highest-income New Yorkers to pay for the program. Governor Andrew Cuomo, then in the midst of his 2014 re-election campaign and trying to curry support from moderate and centrist voters, was not having it. He adamantly opposed increasing taxes but did agree to new state funding that would pay for the program.
There were also worries how the system would handle the nearly-70,000 children who would ultimately enroll in the preschools. The City and community organizations working as part of the program hired 2,000 teachers and opened 3,000 classrooms. As Deputy Mayor Richard Buery explained, “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been part of. Every aspect has been a challenge.”
Now that New York City has had a couple years running Pre-K for All under its belt, it’s expanding the program to include three-year-olds.
What’s going to happen?
As de Blasio announced today, 3-K Preschool will start this year with two of the 32 NYC school districts, Districts 7 in the Bronx (South Bronx) and 23 in Brooklyn (Ocean Hill/Brownsville). Those are some of the poorest school districts in the city and 1,800 children from those neighborhoods will be enrolled in preschool. By 2021, when Mayor de Blasio will be leaving office if he wins re-election this year, 3-K preschool will be a city-wide program.
The Mayor’s office is budgeting $36 million for the pilot program ramping up to $177 million by 2021 when the 3-K program is citywide.
However, because of the smaller class sizes that three-year-olds need compared to even four-year-olds in Pre-K, the challenges are significant. 4,500 teachers will be needed. That’s an especially daunting number since many of the teachers who previously taught younger children in the city’s EarlyLearn preschool program now are pre-kindergarten teachers thanks to the Pre-K for All expansion. The city will also need to find classrooms and will likely open new childhood education centers and partner with more community organizations. All of that costs money and Mayor de Blasio said he’s hoping for $700 million in state and federal funding to expand 3-K citywide.
It’s important to note that, like the Pre-K for All program, the 3-K Preschool program will be free for everyone. In that, it is significantly different than Gov. Cuomo’s free college plan, the Excelsior Scholarship, which limits its benefits to families who earn below a certain threshold. That requires government to bear more of the costs for preschool but may ultimately be more popular because everyone benefits (or at least everyone whose children enroll).
2017 is an election year and so you won’t go too far wrong in thinking this is connected to the election. Mayor de Blasio is burnishing his progressive credentials as he appeals to his base with this big new program which is increasingly popular among Democrats. The biggest beneficiaries–families with young children who currently pay as much as $10,000 a year for childcare— are also likely to vote in local elections. And it’s not a coincidence that the program is starting in heavily-minority neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx. While those areas are poor and don’t have nearly as many regular voters as a neighborhood like the Upper West Side, black and Latino voters are a big part of de Blasio’s progressive base and he needs their support to win re-election.
Why is preschool so important?
New York City’s pre-k for all program is still new so it’ll take time for results to come in about how it affects children’s development. However, some studies of other programs suggest that the biggest impact of early childhood education is on three-year-olds so 3-K should make an important difference in the lives of students.
Even without knowing about its long-term effect on students, the immediate financial impact for families is significant. With families paying $10,000 per year for childcare, free childcare makes a big difference for families, and the 3-K preschool program will increase that effect even more.
There’s also an element of equality in this: most children of wealthy families are already enrolled in high-quality childcare programs; that’s not true of children from poorer families. That inequality not only makes the lives of parents more difficult but also has lasting traces for children’s education. When children from low-income families are 5, on average, they hear 30 million fewer words than children from wealthier families. That makes them less prepared for school and impedes their development and learning throughout their educational careers. 3-K Preschool can make a big difference.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 3-K Preschool program for three-year-olds could have an important impact on children’s lives. Immediately, though, it’ll help families and give de Blasio a popular platform as he runs for re-election.
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