New York Assemblymembers and School Superintendents Call for Fully Funding Full-Day Universal Pre-K

Westchester and Rockland County assemblymembers hold press event in White Plains to emphasize the benefits of pre-K

White Plains, NY – Members of the New York State Assembly representing communities in Westchester and Rockland Counties gathered today at one of the state-funded pre-K programs in Westchester to highlight its success and the need for increased state funding in order to achieve universal pre-K.

At a press event at the Eastview Campus of White Plains Middle School, which contains a dedicated pre-K center, the Assemblymembers were joined by school superintendents and early childhood education advocates to tour the facility and discuss the benefits of pre-K education in terms of preparation and future academic outcomes. The tour also provided an opportunity to celebrate the good work being done at the Eastview School, which is focused on academic preparation and social skills.

The recently enacted state budget made a significant allocation towards universal pre-K which was a big win for New Yorkers.The allocation was not enough, however, to provide universal pre-K to many outside of New York City where pre-K costs are high and available school space is both scarce and expensive.

Since 2013, New York City has received $300M annually under the Statewide Universal Full-Day Pre-K program (SUFDPK). The SUFDPK program, which allocates $10K per child, has allowed New York City to offer universal pre-K to all children.

Districts outside of New York City, however, which enroll more than half of the public students in the state, are only allocated $40M in annual funding under the SUFDPK program. On a positive note, in this year’s budget an additional $15M was added to the SUFDPK program to make the total $55M. This amount will go towards funding full day universal pre-K, however it is still not enough to provide universal pre-K to all children in NYS. As a result, schools in Westchester and Rockland Counties end up having to apply and compete for the SUFDPK funds, and the vast majority do not receive funding. Out of fairness the inequity between schools in New York City and districts outside of the city needs to be remedied.

Districts outside of New York City can currently receive funding from the state for universal pre-K, from a pool called state “UPK” funding. Prior to this year the UPK fund was given ~$250M annually, and this year it received an additional $90M. The formula for receiving these funds is based on property wealth, which for Westchester and Rockland only generates $2700/child for a ½ day program and $5400/child for a full day program. In Westchester and Rockland Counties, $5400/child is not enough to provide full-day pre-K services given the high cost of providing pre-K in these Counties.

High-quality pre-K has significant benefits for children as it provides them with valuable skills to succeed in school and beyond. Studies show that children who arrive at kindergarten prepared to learn perform better throughout school and complete more years of education.

Research shows that brain development in the years prior to kindergarten builds “school readiness” which is the foundation for success in school, at work, and throughout life. Pre-K aids in giving children the four key dimensions of school readiness -- language and literacy, thinking skills, self-control and self-confidence. When these four foundations are strong, a child is ready to thrive in kindergarten and beyond.

Like child care, public pre-K for three- and four-year-olds enables parents of young children to return to the workforce. A study of Washington DC’s universal pre-K program shows that it has resulted in more mothers in the workforce, and could help reduce the outsized impact that the current recession has had on women and families.

Assemblymember Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) has been a lead advocate for state funding for full-day universal pre-K. “Full-day universal pre-K will make an immediate and lasting impact on children, families, and our economy, and is a key component of our state’s recovery,” Paulin said. “The need to expand access to pre-K has been with us for many years, but the COVID-19 pandemic brings added urgency to this issue. After a year of children experiencing significant disruptions in their routines, economic insecurity, illness, and loss, pre-K can help get them on the path to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.”

Dr. Joseph Ricca, Superintendent, White Plains City School District said, “As a lifelong educator, I understand how much and how fast our youngest children can learn – and that pre-K gives a level of learning which is difficult to make up later on. Pre-K lays the groundwork for a love of learning, and begins development of the social and behavioral habits children need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. Universal pre-K is an essential step for building equity and excellence for all of our young learners.”

Dr. Amy Goodman, Superintendent, Tuckahoe School District said, “Our economy needs a substantial investment in child care to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Expanded access to pre-K is critical to this recovery, and is also an essential part of a comprehensive and successful education system. Providing pre-K helps families prepare their children to achieve and succeed.”

Vicki Caramante, Executive Director, Child Care Resources of Rockland County, said “Child Care Resources, Inc. is thrilled the NYS Legislature approved a budget bill that included an additional $90M in funding for Universal Prekindergarten and an additional $15M in pre-K grants for the coming school year with similar funding expected for the three years following. These funds will open 14,475 full day pre-K seats statewide, giving another 14,475 children a right start to their futures as they grow, learn, and explore their world. This funding increase is a huge step in the right direction, yet, we still do not have truly universal, full-funded pre-K in New York. Over 62,000 four-year-olds will still not have access to a full-day pre-K seat. In addition, the funding model used in this year’s allocation is based on a formula from 2006-2007, a formula we have long said does not cover the true cost of providing pre-K. We look forward to working with our State Legislators to increase pre-K funding in future budgets.”

Dr. Kevin McCahill, Nanuet Union Free School District said, “Fully funded universal pre-K has always been an essential “ask” from our school leaders and elected officials. We are all advocating and requesting once again that our Westchester and Rockland schools be afforded the same universal pre-K opportunities the four-year-olds are offered in NYC. From an equity perspective, all families should have the opportunity to send their four-year-old children to a fully funded, full day, pre-K program. From an academic perspective we know from experience and from academic research that students who participate in pre-K thrive socially, emotionally, and academically. I am thrilled to celebrate the expansion of this year’s funding but it still leaves thousands and thousands of students and families left to fend for themselves. Let’s please continue fighting until the day we can truly say all schools are pre-K to 12th grade for all children!”

Assemblymember Gary Pretlow (D-Mount Vernon) said, “The research is clear – investment in early childhood education reaps benefits for students, families and communities for years to come. Universal pre-K 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 that working families are facing."

Assemblymember Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) said, “Access to high-quality pre-K for all children improves school readiness across the board and decreases inequality as children enter kindergarten. This builds a strong foundation for school success.”

Assemblymember Ken Zebrowski (D-New City) said, “Early childhood education provides the building blocks necessary for our students to have a successful future. It's clear that the current pre-K program in New York State is far too fractured and piecemealed, leaving many families behind. While we were successful in this year's state budget in securing a significant investment for UPK, there will still be tens of thousands of children that will not have access to a full-day program. My Assembly colleagues and I will not stop fighting until we have true, universal full day pre-K for every child in this state."

Assemblymember Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh/Mt. Pleasant) said, “The benefits of early care and education programs have a clear and measurable impact on the health and wellness of children and communities as a whole. Universal pre-K ensures that all children, including those who are most vulnerable, get a critical boost that will positively impact their lives for years to come.”

Assemblymember Steve Otis (D-Rye) said, "The state budget provided a record commitment to child care funding and an increase in pre-K funding statewide. Early childhood education is the best foundation to start the road towards a life of learning and fulfillment. We need to take the steps necessary to make pre-K possible in all districts by addressing funding, space and staffing issues that limit the reach of these essential programs."

Assemblymember Chris Burdick (D-Bedford) said, "Universal pre-K is the best investment we can make to encourage children’s intellectual and emotional development."