More than 1,700 children have joined a pre-kindergarten program since the school year started, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday, pushing total enrollment to 53,230 — past the city’s target enrollment figures.
The numbers are a victory for de Blasio, who has made expanding full-day pre-K a signature initiative of his administration. The final tally came with an extra month of planning, though de Blasio hailed it as evidence of the program’s popularity.
“We thought that the need was there, the demand was there, and we could do it even on a tight time frame,” de Blasio said at a press conference at the Spruce Street School in Lower Manhattan, which added 18 full-day pre-K seats this year. “Well, I’m here to say today that … we do have a final figure – and it’s a great figure.”
Nearly every neighborhood now has more four-year-olds in school than last year, and many of the new seats were added in historically underserved neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Last year, full-day pre-K enrollment was just under 20,000, though many more students attended half-day programs. De Blasio has promised to expand that number to over 70,000 by 2015, saying that the early education benefits for poor students would better prepare them for school and close the achievement gap with middle and upper-class students. The first wave of that plan included expanding to 53,000 pre-K seats this year.
On the first day of school, there were 51,500 children enrolled at one of the city’s 1,700 pre-K sites, which are operated by public schools and private organizations. The final registration deadline was set at Oct. 1, but officials extended it to Oct. 31, although they said they weren’t sure who would pay for the students added after the initial deadline. Today, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said the city was prepared to reimburse pre-K providers for those seats.
The state-funded expansion costs $300 million this year and a total of $1.5 billion over five years. The quick expansion did include some hiccups: Nine pre-K sites had their permits revoked in the week before the school year started, and 14 schools had their opening delayed a week.
The expansion was the steepest in several ZIP codes in the Bronx and Brooklyn. In the Highbridge section of the Bronx, the city enrolled 772 students, more than in any other part of the city.
There was lots of demand for pre-K but there were also many programs that remained under-enrolled and officials said a big challenge was matching children to programs with availability.
“Not every seat is going to be right down the block, some will take a little bit of travel – but it’s going to be there for their child,” de Blasio said. “