By Kelsey Durham
Elected officials and educators gathered in Elmhurst this week to celebrate the implementation of $340 million in state grant money for universal pre-kindergarten and to call for more funding to continue expanding the program across New York.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) joined Tanya Sanchez, owner of Emilia’s Kids preschool, at 84-03 57th Ave., to congratulate the institution on being the only UPK center in Queens to have received additional funding from the state Department of Education to expand its program.
The school received more than $157,000 that will allow it to increase its number of pre-K seats to 24 full-day and 11 half-day slots.
“Today is a day to celebrate and say congratulations to Emilia’s,” said Dromm, who serves as chairman of the Council’s Education Committee. “I’m very proud to have this in my district.”
Emilia’s Kids was the only private Queens preschool to be awarded money as part of the state’s initiative to invest $1.5 billion over five years to create more pre-K seats for 4-year-olds across the state. The first round of funding dispersed a total of $40 million to 81 schools and districts around New York, including more than $294 million that was awarded to New York City public schools to create more seats.
Stavisky and Dromm said the lack of space available for additional seats in public schools has led to an increase in the amount of funding and interest from parents in private and nonprofit facilities.
“We really had to have private and nonprofit schools step up to meet the needs for space,” Dromm said.
The city announced Wednesday that nine pre-K sites around the five boroughs would not open as expected due to safety or integrity concerns. Three sites in Queens — Alpha Academy and Rising Starts Islamic School in Jamaica and Queens Early Childhood Center in Springfield Gardens — were among those nine facilities to lost their contracts.
The lawmakers also called on the state to provide more funding to other pre-K sites around the borough and said the neighborhoods that have large immigrant populations, where many children are not native to English, would be better served.
“I firmly believe nothing is more important than preparing young people for the job market, the economy and, if they so choose, college,” said Stavisky, a former high school teacher who now sits on the Senate’s Committee for Higher Education. “I’m absolutely convinced that the mayor and the governor are correct in believing that UPK will solve the problems we see today later on down the road in education. That all starts right here in this building.”
Sanchez said she is hoping to also be able to open more pre-K slots by October.
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at email@example.com.