POLITICS

These Cities Want The Country To Focus More On Access To Preschool

“We can be part of the solution if we collectively work together.”

In 2013, the year before New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, there were about 20,000 free, full-day pre-K seats available to children. Three years later, the city’s preschool landscape looks vastly different. For the 2016-2017 school year, the city had free, full-day seats for more than 70,000 students

Now New York is trying to share what it has learned from this expansion with cities across the country.

On Thursday, New York will host a daylong learning lab with leaders from 12 other cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Seattle. During the event, early learning leaders plan to discuss topics like family outreach and sustainable quality programming, and share insights and challenges from their own cities’ initiatives. 

The leaders hope to create a unified network dedicated to sharing best practices for pre-K implementation. The long-term goal of the event, Pre-K for All, is to promote access to free, high-quality preschool across the country.

“Pre-K for All is all about ensuring high quality programs for every child, and we know that when we share best practices, children are the real winners,” said New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina in a statement. “This forum is an invaluable opportunity for visiting cities to learn from our achievements, and perhaps more importantly from the challenges we faced, while also fostering a thoughtful, long-term discussion about how to expand access to high quality pre-K education across the country.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama announced plans to massively and systematically expand access to early childhood education programs nationwide, but Congress never took action on the issue. In lieu of federal effort, states and cities have implemented their own plans to provide citizens with more affordable preschool options. As of 2014-2015, only about 29 percent of the nation’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in a state-funded preschool program

Cities “are an important force in making pre-K available to every 4-year-old,” said Josh Wallack, New York City’s deputy chancellor for division of strategy and policy. “They’re in touch with the families that are advocating and want this for their kids, and they have the tools in place to scale up quickly. We see this is a conversation between cities, working together to advocate for those resources to get the job done.”

In recent years, leaders from other cities have looked to New York for advice in scaling their own pre-K programs, said Wallack.

De Blasio wants to “help other cities who want to make the same push and effort to feel the same sense of urgency that he did in making sure a 4-year-old gets education as quickly as possible,” said Wallack. 

Sara Baray heads the effort in San Antonio to expand access to early childhood education, called Pre-K For SA. The program, which launched in fiscal year 2014, is currently serving 2,000 students.

“We’re hoping to get a better understanding of who’s out there. What are they doing? How do they structure it? What are the lessons we can learn from their work? And how to do we collectively harness our efforts to focus the nation on early childhood education,” said Baray. “We can be part of the solution if we collectively work together.”

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