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State OKs streamlined pre-K funding plan to expand programs

Nathalie Dagrella teaches her pre-K class at Shepherd's

Nathalie Dagrella teaches her pre-K class at Shepherd's Gate Academy in Brentwood on Friday, March 4, 2016. The academy provides preschool services for the Brentwood school district. Access to quality, full-day pre-K is lacking for the majority of 4-year-olds on Long Island, state and local data show. Credit: Barry Sloan

The state Board of Regents approved a proposal Tuesday to streamline funding for prekindergarten programs with the goal of making it easier for school districts statewide — including those on Long Island — to apply to expand programs for the youngest learners.

The proposal calls for the current mix of seven funding streams to be consolidated into one — a goal of state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia who told Newsday earlier this year that she supported ending the current mishmash of funding sources.

“We want to streamline this process, and ultimately provide prekindergarten education for all children in the state,” Elia said Tuesday.

The proposal still will require approval by lawmakers and the governor to take effect.

“It’s essential that we do that,” said Regent Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who acknowledged the proposal is only advisory, but added that as part of a legislative package it would encourage more Long Island districts to apply for funding.

Lucinda Hurley, executive director of the Nassau BOCES Department of Strategic Initiatives, which has organized an Islandwide pre-K initiative, noted that only 27 percent of 4-year-olds on Long Island have access to a state-funded pre-K program, making the region the least funded in the state. Recent efforts in New York City and statewide have focused on expanding programs to 3-year-olds.

Many Long Island districts are “not being funded at a rate that enables them to cover all of the costs,” said Hurley, hopeful that “when all of this goes into one funding stream . . . the districts on Long Island that have been closed out can participate.” She advocated making programs for 4-year-olds a priority.

Some school districts statewide have used a lottery system to enroll students in a full-day program, effectively shutting out thousands of families each year.

The Long Beach school district offers a half-day program to all its eligible 4-year-olds that is one-third state funded. Superintendent David Weiss said he has not seen the Regents’ proposal, but is eager for his district to expand. He cautioned that prekindergarten funding should not come at the expense of K-12 funds.

He was encouraged that “The Board of Regents knows the importance of early childhood education and acknowledges that there has to be changes to increase flexibility,” he said.

A full-day pre-K program is at least five hours. A half-day is at least two and a half hours.

In 2013, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo committed to a five-year phase-in of universal pre-K. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expanded universal pre-K and has provided a full-day classroom spot to every 4-year-old in the city.

Cuomo announced earlier this month the awarding of $10.4 million for 25 high-need school districts to serve 3-year-olds. None of the districts were on Long Island.

“We suggested the state open prekindergarten funding to all interested school districts,” Hurley said. “And let’s fund the 4-year-olds before the 3-year-olds.”


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