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Editorial: Pre-K program presents golden opportunity

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reads to

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reads to children in a pre-kindergarten class at P.S. 130 in Manhattan, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. De Blasio stopped by the classroom after a news conference about his plans for universal pre-kindergarten in New York. Credit: AP

State funding for full-day prekindergarten programs presents two big learning opportunities. The first one is obvious: the kids who are enrolled will likely have a better start than many of those 4-year-olds who aren't exposed to such a program.

But the second one would benefit educators who should now be able to track the kids in the programs and children who aren't to quantify which methods work best. They'll also be able to determine how much of an advantage full-day pre-K provides, information we need to determine whether the high cost is justified.

Statewide there were 171 applications for the funding and 81 received it. On Long Island, 26 applied: the Brentwood, Central Islip, Island Park, Uniondale and Bay Shore districts were approved, along with two private schools in Glen Cove and Merrick.

New York City is getting $300 million of the $340 million the state set aside for the program, reflecting the push by Mayor Bill de Blasio to make it a reality. Some local districts weren't supportive because Albany committed to the program for five years and must approve the money annually. They fear once they start, the tab could fall back on them. And many districts, including the nine on Long Island that do not have full-day kindergarten, question the state's commitment to an expansion when it's tough enough to pay for the programs already in place.

Yet, studies show early education matters, particularly for the students who face the most challenges. The five-year pilot program is a great opportunity for the state to compare students who get full-day pre-K with others of similar backgrounds who don't to measure just how much of a difference it makes. If educational success is truly boosted by the early start, the state and the districts will have to find a way to provide it, or answer to taxpayers when they don't.