Data compiled by the Office of Early Learning shows enrollment...

Data compiled by the Office of Early Learning shows enrollment counts of 4-year-olds across New York State. Note: Proxy of 4's column is a projection of the total population of four-year-old children in a region, which is why NYC's enrollment totals more than 100%

There is a lottery going on right now in New York State that only parents of preschoolers are eligible to play.

And the odds are against Long Islanders.

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In late winter and spring, school districts across Long Island hold annual lotteries for coveted spots in universal prekindergarten, a state and federally funded program offered to families free of charge through their school district.

Of the 10 regions across the state, however, Long Island lands in the bottom three for the percentage of prekindergarteners who get a slot. In the 2022-2023 school year, only 58% of LI’s estimated 4-year-old population secured a place for the sessions, which can be full or half-day and sometimes outsourced to private partners depending on the district, according to the Office of Early Learning of the New York State Education Department. This is up from 47% in 2021-2022.

Both numbers, of course, fall well short of being universal. Families who miss out would have to pay tuition at privately run pre-K programs, which can be expensive.

In New York City, 100% of eligible 4-year-olds receive UPK thanks to a 2014 initiative by former Mayor Bill de Blasio. Central New York comes in second with 75% of this age group getting seats. The Capital District is last in the state, offering UPK spots to less than half of those eligible.

Data for the 2023-2024 school year will be released in September.

Funding for prekindergarten dates back to 1997, when New York State passed legislation to expand pre-K with an initial investment of more than $500 million. Since then, additional allocations have been made by both the state and federal government, available to districts either through competitive grants requiring providers to submit proposals or funding streams set through formulas in state Education Law.

The state’s Office of Early Learning tallies the total investment in pre-K so far at $1.2 billion and cites a number of factors that affect the ability of district’s to access full funding, like the actual number of 4-year-olds who enroll, physical space limitations, and a lack of available qualified staff.

Nassau and Suffolk families should expect more information soon.

Last year, pre-K legislation was updated to require additional reporting by school districts that would help explain why they are falling short of providing true universal pre-K. Providers must now report the number of students the district is unable to serve due to lack of capacity, the reason for lack of capacity, and other “information on barriers to implementing new or expanding existing universal prekindergarten programs despite available funding.”

This reporting is due in September and should shed new light on why we’re playing a lottery on the futures of Long Island’s preschoolers.

This originally appeared in The Point newsletter. Subscribe here and browse past editions of The Point here.

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