De Blasio: We have the space for pre-K—and now we need the money

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that the city has figured out most of the “where” of its pre-kindergarten expansion plan, if not all of the “how.”

One month after announcing that the city would need 21,000 new full-day pre-kindergarten seats, officials said they exceeded that number and have received applications from schools and community organizations that would provide 29,000 seats.

That provides the wiggle room for the city to turn down some sites, while indicating that most, if not all, of the new full-day pre-K seats will be inside schools or organizations that specifically asked for the programs.

“We will meet September targets, even if not all applicants are approved or some applicants receive fewer seats than requested,” the report says, referring to schools and CBOs who have applied to operate or expand pre-K programs for this fall.

Given the ambitious timeline required to end up with 53,604 full-day pre-K seats in eight months, the mayor was eager to show that one significant box had now been checked on Tuesday. De Blasio didn’t pass up the opportunity to use that idea to implore state lawmakers to move ahead with his funding plan, which has faced increasing scrutiny.

“We can and will secure the space, we can and will hire the professionals, and all of that can only happen if we get reliable funding and sufficient funding,” de Blasio said. “The practical elements are in place and ready to go.”

City officials said that they’re now engaged in a high-speed effort to inspect the schools and CBOs that have volunteered space to see if they meet the qualifications to move ahead. According to the report, the city’s Office of Early Childhood Education has 80 people reviewing sites, and an aide to the mayor said the team was evaluating up to 20 sites each day.

Their to-do list may continue to grow, since a new space survey indicated that 6,000 to 8,000 more seats are likely available in community based organizations.

It is still unclear what schools and organizations have applied for additional pre-kindergarten seats or where exactly they are located. The city did not provide a list of schools or sites, though it did break the numbers down by borough.

The report did say that roughly 60 percent of schools that applied for pre-K seats are in neighborhoods with “a significant shortage of pre-K seats,” and 62 percent of schools are in “low-income communities.” It did not specify what percent of community based organizations are also located in those neighborhoods.

Queens, with 10,400 total seats, and Brooklyn, with 9,500 seats, had the most seats proposed. Manhattan had the fewest with 2,200, followed by 2,300 in Staten Island and 4,800 in the Bronx.

The distribution of those seats is likely to be an important factor in the pre-K plan’s rollout because demand for pre-K seats does not map perfectly to areas of the city where schools have empty space. At the announcement, De Blasio specifically mentioned central Queens as a location where growth in pre-K seats will need to come from CBOs because of school overcrowding.

Today’s update, which included a 10-page progress report, focused on space issues. Other thorny questions still face the pre-K plan’s implementation, including how the city will address the pay gap between pre-K teachers in public schools and community based organizations.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer raised that question in a letter to the mayor and chancellor today analyzing the Manhattan figures for the pre-K plan.

“I am aware that you have accounted for this fact and intend to increase the salaries of teachers in the CBOs. However, a sharp increase in demand for UPK teachers in public schools may result in large numbers of those teachers leaving CBOs for new jobs,” she wrote. “These outcomes could have a destabilizing effect on CBOs.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the 6,000 to 8,000 potential additional seats as being in school buildings, rather than CBOs.