Universal pre-K enrolls fewer low-income families in second year: Report

By Tom Momberg

A professor at the University of California at Berkeley has asserted Mayor Bill de Blasio’s full-day pre-Kindergarten expansion has not successfully enrolled low-income children in the second year of the expansion.

But the mayor’s office said the research conducted at Berkeley narrowly examines the past year of enrollment, without looking at the two-year pre-K expansion effort as a whole.

The Berkeley analysis concluded that very few new enrollments in pre-K came from the poorest fifth of neighborhoods in the city, where they saw just a 1 percent increase.

In cross referencing city enrollment data with that of census tract data, Berkeley Professor Bruce Fuller, a sociologist, found, on the other hand, that middle-class and higher income neighborhoods saw between 28 percent and 43 percent increased enrollment of 4-year-olds between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years.

The study also found that 12,000 4-year-olds in the lowest two-fifths of neighborhoods are not enrolled in any kind of public preschool program, including pre-K centers, and the city’s Head Start and Early Learn programs. While over 70,000 kids are registered for pre-K this year, Fuller’s study asserts that up to 103,000 are eligible.

The mayor’s office still maintains universal pre-K is a huge success because 70,000 kids in a public pre-K program is unprecedented.

Families from the 10 poorest zip codes in the city more than doubled their enrollment in the mayor’s universal pre-K from the start of the two-year expansion, according to city data.

While those low-income neighborhoods may have only seen a modest 1 percent increase from last year, mayoral spokesman Wiley Norvell said they had prioritized registering families in those areas so heavily the first year, by canvassing neighborhoods, going to local businesses door-to-door and by making hundreds of thousands of phone calls.

“That focus continued this year, where we pushed and successfully enrolled more than 1,000 children whose families were in homeless shelters,” Norvell said in a statement. “Professor Fuller’s bizarre allegation that low-income families aren’t served by this new system has been rejected by early education providers and experts over and over.”

The city Department of Education and the mayor’s office spent much of the second year rolling out the pre-K seats, but the mayor’s office said that he huge strides it made in the first year of the expansion should not be take for granted.

“What’s conveniently left out of that analysis is that those same zip codes added 11,737 enrollees in the first year of expansion—a huge spike that shows how focused we’ve been on these communities,” Norvell added.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb[email protected]nglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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