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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pre-school for all? Educators weigh in

By Sarina Trangle
Marisol Diaz/The Riverdale Press
Denise Millan, 4, and Angelyn Dominguez, 5, read on the rug at Kingsbridge Heights Community Center on March 4.
Marisol Diaz/The Riverdale Press
Penelope Acevedo and Abby Belliard, both 4, listen to teacher Iris Polanco at the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center on March 4.
Marisol Diaz/The Riverdale Press
Jose Flores and Luis Aleman-Surrano, both 5, share a book.

Riverdale, Kingsbridge and Van Cortlandt Village educators have been trying to envision how President Barack Obama’s plan to guarantee all American children access to a preschool education will pan out in the Bronx.

After Mr. Obama unveiled an ambitious plan to bolster and expand early education in his February State of the Union address, many said they were hopeful but wary. 

They wondered what his proposals would do to combat long waitlists, to supplement inadequate funding and to streamline the guidelines put in place by the city, state and federal governments. 

The president called on Congress to allocate funding to states based on their proportion of low and middle class 4-year-olds. That number is supposed to help the federal government determine how much funding should go toward pre-school and full-day kindergarten for families at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. 

Mr. Obama urged lawmakers to invest in Early Head Start, a free education initiative for low-income children under 3, by distributing grants to providers that have a record of success.

As it stands, pre-school educators say there are multiple barriers standing in the way of providing as comprehensive a service as they would like. 

Not enough seats

Despite city and state efforts to run a free, universal pre-kindergarten program, more than five apply for every pre-kindergarten seat run out of District 10 public schools, according to Public Advocate Bill De Blasio.  

Space is also tight at community organizations. Daniel Eudene, executive director of Riverdale Neighborhood House, said RNH had a waitlist of 120 families interested in enrolling a child in its 76-seat, full-day pre-kindergarten program when the DOE first funded the program in 2006-2007 school year.

Despite demand, full-day pre-k only lasted one year at RNH (the organization still offers half-day UPK) because the DOE cut off funding. 

The DOE is funding 4,000 full-day pre-kindergarten seats throughout the city next fall, but no new slots are slated for the Riverdale, Kingsbridge or Marble Hill area because the city prioritizes offering seats in low-income areas. 

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