New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Wall Street Journal More Pre-K Seats Planned for Upper East Side by Leslie Brody

More Pre-K Seats Planned for Upper East Side
Wall Street Journal

Education Department to add more than 400 slots to meet strong demand by families by the fall 2019

New York City officials are adding more than 400 public prekindergarten seats on the Upper East Side after parents complained for years that demand far outstripped supply.

For this school year, 736 families vied for 550 spots on the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island combined, officials said. Many families offered seats far from home were upset, saying they couldn’t join one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most popular initiatives because the commute would be too long.

Debbie Semaya said she was shocked she couldn’t get a spot for her 4-year-old daughter near their home in the East 70s and instead takes her to a public pre-K center on 35th Street. She applauded the expansion but questioned whether the additional seats would suffice. “It’s a big stride but we need to be cautionary,” Ms. Semaya said. “I’m not sure it will solve the problem.”

Department of Education officials said they were on track to meet demand by the fall of 2019. They said about 234 new seats will open next fall, at new centers on East 57th and East 95th streets, and another 180 seats in fall 2019 on East 76th Street.

Some early-childhood experts say the city should focus its prekindergarten dollars on low-income areas where many parents can’t afford preschool and children often need more help catching up with vocabulary and other skills. The mayor has pushed universal prekindergarten, which middle-class taxpayers want for their own children and which many praise for potentially bringing children of different backgrounds together.

Ben Kallos, a Democratic councilman who represents the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island, has pushed for more pre-K seats there for years, often sending photos of empty storefronts that could serve as centers to the Department of Education. Mr. Kallos said private pre-K in that area typically starts at $24,000 per child yearly, and getting a free public seat lets parents keep working and stay in the city.

“My only concern is that this is an incredibly popular program and it will continue to be a victim of its own success as more and more parents apply,” and demand will keep outpacing supply, he said.

Now 68,000 children attend free, full-day pre-K, at a cost of $850 million in city and state funds this school year, up from about 20,000 children before the mayor took office. Officials said they are also planning more seats for the Corona area in Queens and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn.

Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack said by email that his team would continue to work with communities to meet their needs so that every four-year-old can attend.

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