Plainview-Old Bethpage schools Superintendent Mary O'Meara, here in January, said the...

Plainview-Old Bethpage schools Superintendent Mary O'Meara, here in January, said the new funding will allow her district to expand services for special education students. Credit: Barry Sloan

Ten Long Island school districts have been awarded a total of $8.1 million from the state Education Department to establish or expand their prekindergarten programs, state officials announced Tuesday.

The Island district receiving the most state dollars is Garden City with nearly $2.4 million.

Next is Riverhead with about $1 million awarded, while Farmingdale and Syosset are getting more than $900,000 each.

Seaford, Oyster Bay-East Norwich and Malverne are receiving $720,000, $660,000 and $470,000 respectively.

“We are thrilled that our district has received a preliminary notice regarding the UPK Expansion grant that will enable us to expand our programs to reach our youngest students,” Garden City Superintendent Kusum Sinha said in an emailed statement.

Statewide, 64 districts have been named to receive the grants, totaling $34 million. Awarded districts will be able to operate a 180-day program for the 2024-25 school year, the department said.

Island educators said the additional funding would allow them to offer more seats and expand programs for children.

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“We are thrilled,” said Merrick schools Superintendent Dominick Palma Tuesday. “This makes it so that we can serve everybody.”

His district, along with Plainview-Old Bethpage and Rockville Centre schools, are receiving $360,000 each.

When the Merrick district began its universal prekindergarten program two years ago, it had 81 students. It expanded to 101 this year and has continued to grow, with 16 children on the waiting list for next year.

With the state grant, the district is expecting to create 36 more seats, meaning it would clear the waiting list and have 20 spots left for others.

Mary O'Meara, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage, said the new funding will allow her district to offer more spots in general and expand services for special education students.

“Our district is going to explore how we can provide more services and support to our youngest students with special needs,” she said.

All public districts in the state were eligible to apply for the competitive grants, according to the state. Grants were awarded based upon factors including the district’s plan to serve a community’s highest-need schools and students, the level of existing prekindergarten services, and the extent to which a district planned to maximize the number of eligible 4-year-olds served in its programs.

On Long Island overall, about 59% of the approximate total of 4-year-olds were served in either a half-day or full-day program in 2022-23, lower than the statewide rate of 77%, according to data compiled by the state’s Office of Early Learning.

In recent years, access to prekindergarten services expanded on Long Island and in the state. In 2019-20, only 32% of the 4-year-olds on Long Island were served. Statewide, the number was about 60% that year.

Expanding pre-K

Here are the 10 Long Island school districts receiving millions in universal prekindergarten expansion grants announced Tuesday.

Farmingdale Union Free School District: $919,800

Garden City Union Free School District: $2,390,000

Malverne Union Free School District: $470,000

Merrick Union Free School District: $360,000

Oyster Bay & East Norwich Central School District: $660,000

Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District: $360,000

Riverhead Central School District: $1,000,581

Rockville Centre Union Free School District: $360,000

Seaford Union Free School District: $720,000

Syosset Central School District: $910,000

Source: New York State Department of Education

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