James Gaughran.

James Gaughran. Credit: James Escher

Daily Point

Staying in and dropping out

New congressional district lines drawn by New York Democrats are already shaking up one race on Long Island.

Former State Sen. James Gaughran, who previously said that he would drop out if he lost his base of support in Huntington Town, announced Tuesday afternoon that he would not seek the Democratic nomination in the First Congressional District.

While the new map only moved a few of Huntington’s election districts west to CD3 and kept Gaughran’s East Northport residence in CD1, he told The Point, “They gutted my support.” Gaughran urged the remaining prime Democrats, Nancy Goroff and John Avlon, to rally around one person. “I was hoping they could work something out. The district is now more Republican, all the more reason why a primary should be avoided,” he said.

But it doesn’t seem as if there will be a kumbaya moment among Suffolk Democrats, at least not yet. Late Tuesday, Gaughran said he will be supporting Avlon.

“Voters have the right to choose their candidate in a primary and their representative in the general. I welcome anyone to this race who is ready to join the fight to beat Nick LaLota in November,” said Goroff in a statement to The Point.

Avlon, the journalist and former CNN political commentator from Sag Harbor who jumped into the race last week, said he is pressing forward. “I am in it to win it,” he said.

“The new lines increase the argument for my candidacy,” he told The Point, contending that as a centrist he has the best chance of drawing Republicans and independent voters. “Nancy Goroff already had a shot and the results speak for themselves,” he said. Goroff, the former chair of the chemistry department at Stony Brook University, lost to Republican Lee Zeldin in 2020 by almost 10 points. Attorney Craig Herskowitz has dropped out of the race and is expected to support Goroff.

Meanwhile, the lines in CD4, represented by GOP freshman Anthony D’Esposito, were untouched in Albany. Laura Gillen, the former Hempstead Town supervisor who lost in 2022, is seeking a rematch and has the support of many Democratic organizations. State Sen. Kevin Thomas, who is not running again for his seat, initially jumped into the House race but fundraising has remained elusive and he is under a lot of pressure to drop out. He was not available for comment Tuesday, but the talk among Democrats is that he is planning an exit soon.

However, former Nassau County Legis. David Denenberg told The Point that he’s still in. “Nothing has changed my plans,” said Denenberg, who represented South Shore Nassau communities for 15 years in the county legislature and lately has been fighting to get rid of Liberty Water, the private utility that services the area.

“I think primaries have worked both ways. They can make the winner stronger because you are dominating the news and the candidates get into the public,” Denenberg said, while acknowledging that such races can use up “precious” resources for the general election.

— Rita Ciolli rita.ciolli@newsday.com

Pencil Point

Free falling

Credit: POLITICALCARTOONS.COM/Dick Wright

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Final Point

Universal pre-K not universal on Long Island 

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.

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.

— Amanda Fiscina-Wells amanda.fiscina-wells@newsday.com

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