Nassau County school districts were shortchanged $77 million in state money for prekindergarten when compared with the funding allocated to educate 4-year-olds in New York City, according to county Comptroller George Maragos.
For the 2015-16 school year, the state gave districts in Nassau a total of $12.4 million for pre-K programs, a fraction of the $529.4 million given to New York City, Maragos found, calling the comparison "fundamentally unfair."
"We should make a very strong effort to offer pre-K in our districts, and we have an obligation to fund those programs similarly to New York City," Maragos said Monday.
The comptroller said there's been a lot of discussion about expanding pre-K in the county recently. He sent a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, other elected officials and all Nassau County school superintendents noting the funding disparity on Oct. 19.
The governor's press office did not return calls Monday seeking comment.
The office of Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), majority leader of the State Senate and former chairman of that chamber's Education Committee, also did not return calls seeking comment.
Nassau funding at 20%
According to Maragos' analysis, Nassau County receives pre-K funding for 20 percent of its 4-year-old children, while New York City gets money for 70 percent of its 4-year-olds. His office estimated the number of 4-year-olds in Nassau and New York City based on public kindergarten enrollment.
Nassau districts have 14,118 4-year-olds and received funding for 2,807 students through the state's universal prekindergarten funding stream, according to the analysis.
New York City has 83,550 4-year-olds and received funding for 58,479 students through the same state funding mechanism, the analysis found.
Nearly 60 of the 118 districts with elementary schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties offer pre-K. Many districts don't have enough pre-K spots for the families that apply, and the children are selected through a lottery drawing in their home district.
Free, full-day prekindergarten was a major element in Mayor Bill de Blasio's successful 2013 election campaign. Cuomo subsequently came out in support of universal pre-K, and in March 2014 the State Legislature committed $1.5 billion over five years for a gradual phase-in of the first-ever universal program.
New York City rolled out a major initiative for the 2014-15 school year, doubling the number of free, full-day pre-K spots available to the city's 4-year-olds.
Various programs used
On Long Island, some school districts educate their 4-year-olds in their elementary schools, but many contract the program out to community-based organizations, including private day-care centers and faith-based learning centers.
Early childhood advocates and experts say high-quality pre-K can have lifelong positive outcomes, particularly for children from low-income homes or who otherwise are considered at risk.