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New York, including Uniondale district, getting federal money for model pre-K programs

Four-year-old students in a state-funded pre-K program participate

Four-year-old students in a state-funded pre-K program participate in teacher Lisa Maffettone's class on the grounds of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Credit: Chuck Fadely

New York State has won nearly $25 million in federal funding for five model preschool programs across the state, including long-sought new classes in the Uniondale district, federal and state officials said Wednesday.

U.S. Department of Education officials announced that New York is among 18 states awarded a total of more than $226 million in grants. The funding -- part of $1 billion in new federal and private investments in early childhood education -- is meant to provide high-quality classes for 33,000 4-year-olds nationwide, officials said.

The announcement drew cheers from preschool experts on Long Island, who have advocated for more full-day programs, especially in low-income communities. The federal Preschool Development Grants are intended to expand services for families that have had limited access.

"I'm very excited," said Dana Friedman, president of the Early Years Institute, a nonprofit agency based in Port Washington, which advised state officials on the preschool initiative. "We're going to be expanding prekindergarten. Let's do it well."

Experts say daylong prekindergarten programs have the time to provide a strong curriculum that helps prepare kids for elementary grades. Friedman said Uniondale's preschool program will start next fall. Students' individual needs will be analyzed through an assessment developed in Canada that is known as the Early Development Instrument, based on teacher observations.

Aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo confirmed the selection of Uniondale as one of five model preschool sites across the state. Others are in New York City, Yonkers, Port Chester in Westchester County and the upstate district of Indian River.

New York's initial grant is $24.9 million -- the largest amount given any state. Cuomo staffers expect the award to total $100 million over four years, including $9.2 million for Uniondale.

Uniondale's model pre-K is expected to open with 144 children and expand to 344 students in the fourth year of the program, Cuomo staffers said.

In September, the state launched its own public preschool program, at an annual cost of $340 million. Most of the new full-day classes are located in New York City; about 700 youngsters are enrolled at five locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The state's program was a major initiative of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, working with the governor.

Cuomo, in a statement, called the five new preschool programs "another step forward in our effort to create new learning opportunities for some of our youngest New Yorkers."

Uniondale was among local school districts chosen last fall to participate in the state's program. District officials decided against participation, however.

Albany did not announce its selections until August, and Uniondale feared it could not begin classes in time to provide the state-required 180 days of classroom instruction in the academic year.Wednesday's federal announcement of extra funding for prekindergarten classes coincided with a White House "summit" meeting attended by business and philanthropic leaders, who pledged over $330 million in multiyear contributions to early education programs. Groups represented included three based on Long Island: the Rauch Foundation, Hagedorn Foundation and Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund.

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