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Report: LI School Districts Decline State Pre-K Money

June 19, 2009

Albany, NY - A new report shows half of Long Island's school districts opted not to use millions of dollars in state funds that could have sent thousands of four-year-olds to preschool classes. According to the report, titled Windows of Opportunity, by the nonprofit Early Years Institute (EYI)>, thousands of preschoolers could be attending free pre-school classes if their school districts had gone after the funds.

EYI executive director Dana Friedman says the reasons some superintendents used include a belief pre-K is not necessary, or not an appropriate use of funds, or they feel funding offered by the state isn't sufficient.

"Some of the reasons why they're not providing pre-k are valid. I don't think the amount of money provided by New York state really does cover the true cost of quality."

Another reason for declining to participate is a lack of rooms, but Friedman says districts are allowed to partner with community agencies to use space away from the schools. She hopes the report will help schools foster connections with such agencies to resolve that problem.

The state funds that went unused this year for preparing some 3,600 children for kindergarten will be eliminated at least temporaily, says Friedman. On a positive note, she adds, the 83-page report highlights pre-K programs the Institute believes are standout examples.

"There are efforts in a time of limited resources that I think we can make locally in just sharing best practices. We did find a number of districts doing wonderful things."

The report underlines the importance of preschool years for later success in school and life, says Friedman, and acknowledges the fact that learning takes place before kindergarten can ultimately save school districts money.

"The costs to the school district ultimately are lower because there are fewer children coming in with special needs, there are fewer children needing remedial help, and there's less absenteeism because the parents have been more involved for a longer period of time."

The state's Universal Prekindergarten program provides a year of five-day-a-week tuition-free classes, when opted for by a school district.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY