Budget Battle

With funding uncertain, city pushes back pre-K enrollment deadline

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Mayor Bill de Blasio offered new details about his after-school expansion plan, along with Richard Buery, a deputy mayor charged with overseeing the mayor's prekindergarten and after-school initiatives.

The intensifying mayor-versus-governor debate about the best way to pay for vast pre-kindergarten and after-school expansions had an immediate impact Monday when the city announced that it had pushed back the pre-K enrollment deadline until after the state budget is settled.

The announcement came a day before Mayor Bill de Blasio — along with busloads of supporters — will travel to Albany to lobby lawmakers to back his plan to fund the expansions with an income-tax surcharge on the city’s  high-earners. But the tax is opposed by Republican lawmakers and the governor, who wants to pay for the expanded programs with state money rather than a new tax.

Department of Education officials said Monday that the pre-K enrollment deadline had been moved from April 1 to April 23, three weeks after the state budget is due, to enable the city to adjust the number of available pre-K seats based on how much money becomes available for the expansion. In the meantime, families may only apply for existing seats, said Sophia Pappas, executive director of the department’s office of early childhood education, “since we don’t have confirmation about the funding yet.”

Meanwhile, at a press conference tied to the release of a new report detailing the city’s plan to more than double the number of middle school after-school programs, de Blasio said he can only carry out the plan if the state meets his budget demands.

“We can’t achieve this vision for after-school without dedicated, sustained and sufficient resources,” de Blasio said, adding, “That’s why we continue to fight in Albany.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed spending $1.5 billion over five years to expand pre-K statewide and $720 million over the same period for a statewide after-school expansion. But de Blasio wants $530 million annually just for the city’s expansion plans, and notes that Cuomo’s after-school funds would not kick in until 2015, a year after the city hopes to add the new programs.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña helped call parents Monday and encourage them to enroll their children in pre-kindergarten.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña helped call parents Monday and encourage them to enroll their children in pre-kindergarten.

On Monday, de Blasio said he hoped to meet with Cuomo when he arrives in Albany, but that no meeting was currently scheduled. De Blasio said he expected the new after-school report to “move” lawmakers in the way a similar pre-K policy paper had.

De Blasio and his allies, who have long planned for Tuesday’s pre-K push, will now share the spotlight in Albany with another contingent of fired-up advocates: charter school supporters.

The Success Academy charter network — which lost public space for three planned schools in a city decision last week — will send busloads of students to Albany Tuesday to seek lawmakers’ support for school facilities and funding. A city pro-charter parent group said it expects hundreds of parents to attend as well, and a regional charter school advocacy organization said supporters from 90 charter schools across the state would also rally at the capital.

A coalition of groups that support de Blasio’s pre-K plan gathered in New York Monday for what they called a “unity rally,” and called out Eva Moskowitz, the head of Success Academies, and others for their “divisiveness.” At the press conference, de Blasio brushed off suggestions that the charter school rallies could distract from his pre-K lobbying.

“I think there’s too much of a demand for pre-K and after-school at this point for any other issue to muddy the waters” in Albany, he said.

In a letter Monday to the mayor, Moskowitz called any suggestion that the pro-charter school rally in Albany is intended to detract from the pre-K expansion plan “utterly false.”

“We support pre-K and we are going to march in favor of good educational opportunities for ALL children,” she wrote.

Also on Monday, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña helped phone public-housing residents to encourage them to enroll their four-year-old children in one of the 24,000 pre-K slots available in public schools. (To apply for free pre-K seats administered by community-based organizations, families must submit separate applications directly to those centers.)

During one call, Fariña told a child who answered the phone, “I’m the lady in charge of all the schools in New York City. Is your mother in the house?”

Later, when Fariña was asked by a reporter whether the source of pre-K funding — either from the mayor’s proposed tax or from the state — would impact the expansion, she suggested that question was premature.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” she said.

By the numbers

As city gears up for year three of its pre-K expansion, applications hold steady

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

More than 68,000 New York City children applied for full-day pre-K this year, jumpstarting the third year of the city’s expansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

The total number of applications is in line with last year’s total, but the Bronx and Manhattan both saw drops in the number of families that applied. The Bronx had a 5 percent decrease, from 14,280 applications last year to 13,529.

Brooklyn, the borough with the greatest number of families who applied for pre-kindergarten, saw an increase, with 22,046 families applying — up from 21,500 families last year. Staten Island and Queens saw marginal increases.

The number of applications is just shy of de Blasio’s original goal of enrolling 70,000 four-year-olds in pre-K. The city pointed out that the number of applications represents three times the number of children enrolled in full-day pre-K before the expansion started in 2014.

De Blasio’s push for universal pre-K has largely been seen as a success, with seats generally meeting or surpassing quality standards. A recent, limited survey found that families said that pre-K saved them money and helped their children learn.

This year, the city has made a few changes to the application process. The application period opened earlier to give families more time to decide where to apply. Families will also receive offers in early May, a month earlier than last year.

Families who have not yet applied will be able to apply to programs with available seats from May 2 to May 20.

pre-k report card

City touts record 68,500 students in pre-K, releases data on program quality

PHOTO: Rob Bennett/Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Sunnyside Community Services Pre-K in Queens on March 14, 2014.

The city released new data Friday about the quality of its rapidly expanded pre-kindergarten program, which officials touted as evidence that the program has maintained high standards even as it enrolled nearly 50,000 additional students over the past two years.

With free full-day preschool as the centerpiece of his education agenda, Mayor Bill de Blasio has more than tripled enrollment since he took office — leaving some observers to wonder whether the city was trading quantity of seats for quality. The new data, compiled from reviews of a portion of the city’s 1,800 pre-K sites that were conducted from 2012 to the present, shows that the quality of New York’s pre-K program is on par with other cities.

The inspected sites on average met or surpassed the national average on a measure of teacher-student interactions, according to review of 555 cites. On a different measure, 77 percent of reviewed sites earned a 3.4 or above on a 7-point scale, which city officials said is the benchmark that programs must reach to have a positive impact on students.

However, Steven Barnett, a professor at Rutgers who is an expert on preschool programs, said that programs should strive to score a five or higher on that scale. The results are promising, he added, but should be seen as a baseline that the city should improve upon.

“They’re OK, but they’re not nearly as good as they should be five years from now,” he said. “It’s not an overnight process.”

Officials also announced that pre-K enrollment reached over 68,500 — just shy of de Blasio’s goal of 70,000 — and said that a recent crop of new students came primarily from low-income backgrounds. Of the 3,000 students who have enrolled since September, 90 percent live in zip codes with incomes below the city’s median.

The pre-K expansion has been one of de Blasio’s only initiatives to garner positive reviews from most observers.

“We’re proud Pre-K for All is performing on a level with some of the most highly-regarded programs in the nation,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The education department used two observation-based measures for the report.

The first, known as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, focused on how teachers interact with students. It uses smiling and laughter to gauge school climate and judges the quality of questioning in a class. The second, called the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, used room set-up and student hygiene, as well as the quality of instruction.

More than 1,000 pre-K programs were evaluated using the second measure in the past three years. On average, they scored 3.9 on the 7-point scale. City officials said a 3.4 is correlated with “improved student outcomes,” including better reading, math, thinking, and social skills.

Barnett, who has studied New Jersey’s celebrated pre-K expansion, said it’s encouraging that categories like “language” and “interaction” were scored higher than “space and furnishings” or “personal care routines.” That implies physical space and classroom routines weighed down the ratings, not teacher instruction, he said.

New York’s scores align with pre-K programs in other cities. New Jersey’s Abbott program scored a 4.0 on the ECERS-R scale in 2002-03, just 0.1 points higher than New York’s rating.

Not all of the city’s 1,800 pre-K sites were evaluated, but soon the city plans to assess all programs. Every three years, each pre-K program should receive both ratings, city officials said.

City officials said they will direct more resources to pre-K programs with low scores on these measures, including extra social workers or more professional development.

They did not offer any specific plans to close struggling pre-K programs based on these observations, though they said that is a possibility in the future. The officials also said they would consider a site’s scores when considering whether to renew providers’ contracts.

For K-12 schools, the city publishes data in annual progress reports for parents. City officials did not say they plan to present pre-K information in a similar way, though all of the data is available on their website.