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LI districts get $7.87M in state funding for full-day pre-K

This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook

This is a first-grade classroom at Branch Brook Elementary School in Smithtown at the end of the day Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Six Long Island school districts, a private, nonprofit school in Glen Cove and a Jewish center in Merrick are among the first to win millions in state funding for full-day prekindergarten classes that are to open statewide starting next month.

All but $40 million of the $340 million in new funding will go to schools in New York City -- a sore point for many educators both on Long Island and upstate. Still, some local recipients expressed joy over their awards, announced this week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office.

Full-day pre-K grants to schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties total $7.87 million. Four-year-olds enrolled in the classes are entitled to five hours of daily instruction, tuition-free, during the 2014-15 school year.

Craig Carr, superintendent of Central Islip schools, said his district's $202,251 state grant would provide youngsters there "a better foundation to their education."

Carr estimated that the new money would support full-day classes for 42 children, and that sessions would begin by Sept. 12.

Central Islip, like many districts, already operates state-aided pre-K classes that provide half-day sessions. Those classes last year enrolled about 230 youngsters in Central Islip. A smaller number of local children from low-income families attend full-day, federally financed Head Start programs.

Other districts receiving full-day pre-K funding are Brentwood, Bay Shore, Island Park, Middle Country and Uniondale.

The nonpublic School for Language & Communication Development, headquartered in Glen Cove, will receive $400,000 in state funding for full-day pre-K. The school enrolls more than 500 students with disabilities at centers in Nassau County and Queens.

"SLCD is so excited and thrilled that we'll be able to serve more preschool students in the city of Glen Cove," said Laurie Ackerman, the school's director of development and external affairs.

Expansion of publicly funded full-day pre-K got a major push last spring from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who obtained $294.4 million in new funding for the programs. Millions more went to the city's private and charter schools.

Cuomo, who crafted much of the final package, this week called the statewide pre-K initiative "one of the smartest investments we can make as a state."

The governor and state lawmakers had approved a $25 million full-day pre-K pilot program last year.

As part of the usual political trade-offs in the state Legislature, Long Island's public schools this year gained an extra $125.7 million in operating aid for grades K-12. Nonetheless, some local school leaders questioned the disparity between the amount of full-day pre-K money going to New York City and to their own region.

"I think there's something wrong with this picture," said Patricia Godek, superintendent of North Babylon schools.

North Babylon was among six Island districts that withdrew applications for full-day pre-K grants, many because they felt the state's application schedule did not leave enough time for proper planning.

Roberta Gerold, the schools chief in Middle Country, said her district would have to decide in coming weeks whether or not to accept its $1.7 million full-day pre-K award, since it would not cover all local students whose families sought such services.

"We feel that everyone who wants to be enrolled in the full-day program should be able to benefit from it," Gerold said.

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