Long Island's youngest students will benefit from nearly a half-million dollars in state funding to establish a center for improving and expanding prekindergarten programs, early childhood experts, educators and local leaders announced Tuesday.
Long Island is the least-funded region in the state for pre-K, and early childhood experts applauded the $475,000 in state money secured by Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont) and Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood).
The Regional Pre-K Technical Assistance Center will combine services and expertise for expansion of pre-K, coordinating relationships between school systems and the community-based organizations that in many districts provide education to the youngest learners, officials said at a news conference in Garden City.
"This pre-K work, it sounds kind of simple … but it is tricky," said Lucinda Hurley, coordinator of The Long Island Pre-K Initiative, a grant-funded project coordinated through Nassau BOCES that seeks to strengthen partnerships between districts and community-based organizations and to share information about research, policy and best practices for early learning. The center will build on the pre-K initiative's work.
"It is two giant systems — early childhood education and the K-12 systems matching and meeting and working things out — and it requires a lot of work on every Long Islander's part," Hurley said. "This is our future, and we hear from all walks of life how important early education is."
Only an estimated 10 percent of 4-year-olds on the Island have access to a full-day, state-funded program, early childhood experts reported. Some districts have included 3-year-olds as they expand services.
In recent years, there have been efforts to boost the number of pre-K seats. Still, most pre-K offerings in the two-county region, where available, are half-day, lasting about two-and-a-half hours. By contrast, New York City offers access to a full-day, funded program to all 4-year-olds.
Making child care affordable and accessible to working families on the Island would lead to more economic development opportunities and increased workplace productivity, leaders of the Long Island Association said in a forum they hosted in February on the importance of early childhood education to the region.
According to Nassau BOCES, the new center also will provide support and guidance to any organization seeking to start, expand or improve pre-K programs.
"We have learned that high-quality, developmentally appropriate pre-K can close the achievement gap early on and give everybody a good start," Hurley said. The Long Island Pre-K Initiative also partners with Eastern Suffolk BOCES, Western Suffolk BOCES and the Child Care Councils of Nassau and Suffolk.
Sara Morrison, a Uniondale parent and leader with the Family Leadership Network, joined educators and local leaders at Tuesday's news conference. She spoke about how much a full-day, state-funded program meant to her and her 4-year-old daughter, Aniyah Cox, who just graduated pre-K and will start kindergarten in September.
"She is truly ready for kindergarten," Morrison said. "I just wanted to tell you how important pre-K is. … Every child deserves this and every family deserves this."