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Educators: LI lags far behind in providing early education programs

Economic growth is negatively affected by the lack of quality childcare, regional experts say. Only an estimated 10 percent of Long Island's 4-year-olds have access to full-day, state-funded prekindergarten.

Students in Jenellen Skuggevik's pre-K class learn about

Students in Jenellen Skuggevik's pre-K class learn about plant life at the Greenport School in Greenport on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Greenport is one of two districts on Long Island that are proposing tax-cap overrides this year. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Long Island lags far behind other parts of New York in the availability of quality childcare and early education programs — a deficiency that negatively affects the region's economic growth, educators and economists said Thursday at a Long Island Association forum in Melville.

Only an estimated 10 percent of 4-year-olds on the Island have access to full-day, state-funded prekindergarten programs, according to a group of early childhood experts that includes the three regional BOCES districts and childcare councils in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Most pre-K offerings in the two-county region, where available, are half-day and last about 2.5 hours By contrast, New York City offers access to a full-day, funded program for all 4-year-olds.

Making childcare affordable and accessible to working families on Long Island would lead to more economic development opportunities and increased workplace productivity, the LIA's leaders said.

“Childcare is not a women’s issue or a mom’s issue or a family issue," said Kevin Law, the group's president. "It is very much an economic development issue, and we need to view it as such."

According to a report from the association, on Long Island there are 1,825 full-time and part-time childcare and early education programs employing 8,750 people, collectively representing an $804 million industry. That includes day-care centers. 

Thursday, a panel of experts from the medical, business, education and nonprofit communities discussed the importance of more opportunities for children, with efforts to include lobbying for equitable state funding for prekindergarten on Long Island. They noted that studies have shown that early childhood education pays off academically in a child’s later years.

“Making sure that children have a safe and high-quality place to go while parents are working is good for all of us,” said Jennifer Marino Rojas, executive director of the Child Care Council of Suffolk Inc. “We know that it improves employee productivity. And it also prepares children for school success, lifelong success . . . and prepares the future workforce.”

Advocates of early childhood education are asking the state for $750,000 to launch a Regional Technical Assistance Center that would combine services and expertise for expansion of prekindergarten and coordinate relationships between school districts and community-based providers. It also would offer professional development and technical expertise for pre-K administrators and managers.

Constance Evelyn, superintendent of the Valley Stream 13 school district, which enrolls about 2,100 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, called the lack of such programs for the youngest learners a “crisis for Long Island and the State of New York.”

Valley Stream 13 offers a four-week summer program for incoming kindergarten students, Evelyn noted. While the results have been remarkable, she said, “the impact pales if these same children could access prekindergarten at 3 years old and 4 years old, every day every hour before they reach kindergarten.”

In recent years, there have been efforts to boost the number of pre-K seats. According to the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, New York's commitment to prekindergarten now is more than $800 million annually, serving 120,000 children ages 3 and 4 each year with universal prekindergarten.

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