City hopes to enroll 70,000 students in pre-K by fall

By Tom Momberg

Monday was opening day for pre-kindergarten applications, which drew more than triple the number of applications received from the first day last year.

On the first day this year, almost 22,000 families applied for free, full-day education for 4-year-olds this fall — a number New York Mayor Bill de Blasio touted during a news conference at the Boys and Girls Harbor in East Harlem Tuesday.

New York City enrolled more than 53,000 children in pre-K last fall, and the city is expecting 70,000 to enroll this fall. That number may fluctuate.

The mayor’s Pre-K for All initiative has struggled to fight space constraints for those currently enrolled, but de Blasio said that three new pre-K centers are currently being built in three of the city’s most overcrowded school districts.

“Do we have all the space we’re looking for? No,” said the mayor during the press conference. “We’re still looking.”

The city is concentrating on an expected increase in the number of pre-K seats in Central Queens, Brownstone, Brooklyn, Washington Heights. The largest applicant turnout was in the Queens, with 7,700 families on the first day.

“Early childhood education is invaluable in shaping our children’s future, and we urge every family to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Despite the need for seats, only 55 percent of pre-K programs that applied for September enrollment were approved. Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said many programs were rejected due to rigorous standards set by the mayor’s initiative. All 13 charter schools that applied were granted pre-K programs, but make up only a small part of the institutions that offer pre-K.

“This year, more children than ever will walk into a full-day pre-K classroom and start on a path that will change their lives for the better, “Buery said. “We know a child who has access to full-day pre-K gets the tools they need to do well in school.”

More than half of the pre-K programs offered this fall will be housed at community-based organizations rather than public school buildings. These organizations tend to be located in lower-income neighborhoods.

The deadline for families to apply for pre-K enrollment is April 24. Apply online at nyc.gov/prek, or by visiting a Family Welcome Center. Families that apply by the deadline are supposed to receive enrollment offers in early June.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.