New York's De Blasio Seeks Universal Preschool for 3-Year-Olds

(Bloomberg) -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat seeking re-election this year, plans to expand the city’s free all-day pre-kindergarten program to include 3-year-old children.

The effort will begin in Brooklyn and the Bronx with hundreds enrolled as early as this September, at a cost of $16 million. The program, aimed to be fully operating by 2021, hinges on spending at least $377 million in city funds and $700 million in federal and state aid, de Blasio said Monday.

De Blasio, 55, initiated the first universal pre-k program, which now serves almost 70,000 students, to fulfill a 2013 campaign promise. He intended to finance it with a tax increase on incomes above $500,000, yet abandoned that plan after the state legislature agreed to pay for pre-kindergarten statewide.

The “3-K for All” effort will be more challenging than the current program for 4-year-olds, requiring the city to finance and find classroom space and teachers trained to work with younger children, de Blasio said.

“This extra year of education will provide our children with a level of academic and social development that they cannot get later on, while at the same time, alleviating some of the strain New York City’s working families face today,” de Blasio said.

By fall of 2018, the city would have 1,800 children in the two pilot districts, triple the total enrolled in city-subsidized child care today, the mayor said. By 2020, the program would be available in eight districts, with full expansion for more than 60,000 3-year-olds planned for 2021, de Blasio said.

The city already helps about 30,000 children enroll in day care and education programs through its EarlyLearn NYC program. The mayor cited academic studies concluding that two years of early child education before kindergarten helps students improve their academic performance and social skills throughout their lives.

The program is part of a strategy to reach a goal of 80 percent of students graduating from high school on time by 2026 and two-thirds of graduates as college ready. The graduation rate in the city reached almost 73 percent last year, up from 71 percent in 2015, with about 51 percent of graduates meeting City University of New York standards for being college-ready in English and math, de Blasio said in February.

De Blasio said the first stage of the program will be included in a budget for next year that he will submit to the City Council next month. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito joined him at a news conference Monday to support the initiative.