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Lawmakers, advocates call for publicly-funded pre-K for LI

Nicholas, 29 months, reaches for a microphone as

Nicholas, 29 months, reaches for a microphone as his mother, Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, speaks beside advocates with the Long Island Pre-K Initiative during a press conference at the Nassau BOCES George Farber Administrative Center in Garden City Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

State Assemb. Michaelle C. Solages, state Sen. Carl Marcellino and a bipartisan group of state legislators Monday vowed to fight for publicly funded pre-kindergarten classes for all 4-year-olds in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Speaking at an event sponsored by the Long Island Pre-K Initiative, the lawmakers said a complex state funding formula and competitive grant system has pitted school districts against each other for pre-K dollars. That’s resulted in far fewer slots than needed for the 30,000 eligible children in both counties, they said.

“We on Long Island — the mothers, the fathers — want universal pre-K for all of our students,” said Solages, who represents several western Nassau communities including Valley Stream, Elmont and Floral Park.

No cost estimates were available, however. As a region, Long Island is getting the least amount of state funding for pre-K students, said Solages and others.

“When people move to Long Island they see all of these beautiful buildings and beautiful homes and they will expect these programs for their 4-year-olds,” she added as she wrangled her own 2 1⁄2-year-old son Nicholas behind the podium.

The pre-K initiative is a grant-funded project administered by Nassau BOCES that seeks to share information about research, policy and best practices for early learning.

Advocates say only 7 percent of Long Island 4-year-olds have access to state-funded, full-day pre-K, compared with 100 percent of such students in New York City.

More than 70,000 4-year-olds in the five boroughs of New York City are offered a seat in full-day pre-K program. Those programs are located within district schools, at day care centers and through faith-based organization.

By comparision, for the 30,000 eligible children on Long Island, there are 1,321 full-day and 4,846 half-day pre-K seats in Suffolk; 780 full-day and 2,421 half-day seats in Nassau, according to the Long Island Pre-K Initiative.

Currently, universal pre-K exists in only two of the Island’s school districts — Middle Country and Brentwood — where there is a seat for each eligible child. The rest of the districts that offer pre-K are based on a lottery system.

Nearly all of Long Island’s public pre-K seats are located in “high-needs” districts.

Because some districts have limited space, if universal pre-K was offered on Long Island, it would have to be provided by a combination of school districts and community-based organizations, advocates said.

“We shouldn’t be pitting one school district against another just because one district has a better grant writer than the other,” said Marcellino, a retired New York City high school biology teacher. “It’s important that these kids get the opportunity to get early childhood education — on a quality basis — and I’m not interested in this so-called competition.”

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