Here at NYCAN, we believe that every child is entitled to a great public education, no matter where they live or how much money their family makes. We also believe, as research has shown time and again, that a great education begins with access to high quality pre-K. To provide that access to all students, every public school must be able to offer programs and have access to public funding streams to support pre-K.
Though there is no silver bullet to closing the achievement gap, most advocates and experts agree that the positive impact of high-quality pre-K is indisputable. This is backed by years of research, which shows that achievement gaps start much earlier than third grade when we are able to use state assessments as a barometer of performance. In fact, by the time kids enter kindergarten, 75 percent of more affluent students are deemed “kindergarten-ready.” The same can be said for only 48 percent of kids from families below the poverty line.
Luckily, the importance of expanding quality pre-K is also top of mind for policymakers at the state and national level. In his recent budget submission to Congress, President Obama included a request for more than $7o billion dollars over 10 years to expand pre-K programs. Here at home, Governor Cuomo proposed and the legislature adopted an additional $25 million in grant funding to expand access to pre-K in the 2013-14 school year.
New York’s investment in growing the number of high quality pre-K seats is an important one, but there is more work to do. Too many students still don’t have access to a high-quality pre-K program and some don’t have access to a publicly supported program at all.
Pre-K has shown to yield the greatest benefits to the students who need it most: those who come from less affluent backgrounds and are less likely to be prepared for kindergarten. Yet before the competitive grants in this year’s budget, New York’s state-funded pre-K wasn’t designed to target the kids that needed it the most.
Making need a determining factor in the awarding of these grants is an important step forward. But it’s not enough. Even though they primarily serve low-income students and students of color, public charter schools under current law aren’t authorized to include pre-K in their charters.
It’s no secret that New York is grappling with devastating achievement and access gaps. Last year, only 60 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient in math, and only half were proficient in English/language arts. Those numbers are even lower for low-income students and students of color. That’s why all of our public schools, especially those with a track record of success serving students with the greatest need, must be equitably positioned to provide their students with a high quality education beginning with pre-K.
Every child deserves the same access to a great education and the opportunity to succeed. To make that a reality, every public school needs to have an equitable opportunity to provide pre-K to their students.
It’s time to call all public schools on deck, including public charter schools, so that every child gets the early support they deserve for success in school and beyond.