NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Mayor Bill de Blasio made universal pre-kindergarten the centerpiece of his campaign and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made it a central theme in this election year.

But while the two face off on how to fund universal pre-K, some parents with kindergartners say they feel orphaned in the debate, CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.

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Jennifer Simon is hoping by the time her son Sam attends kindergarten it will be for a full day. Simon’s school district is one of only 26 in New York state where kindergarten is only half a day.

“They’re not getting as much learning, it’s just the basics,” Simon said.

The Huntington mother is among a chorus of parents troubled over the universal pre-kindergarten debate, while 7,000 children – or 4 percent – in New York don’t even have full-day kindergarten.

“I think universal pre-K is wonderful. I think it’s an excellent program and we should support it, but focus on kindergarten first,” Simon said.

“It is the cart before the horse,” said Middle Country School District Superintendent Dr. Roberta Gerold.

Gerold, who is also the president of the Suffolk County School Superintendent Association, said a handful of districts can’t even find the space or money for full-day kindergarten, so the pre-K debate is out-of-order.

“The energies are being pushed, it feels like to me, on whether we should have full-day pre-K. Which limits the attention we ought to be paying to kindergarten through grade 12, which is the more important argument,” said Gerold.

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Many educators argue that what children lose in half-day kindergarten: music, art and socialization, puts them at a disadvantage.

“You’re actually eliminated that deep learning. You’re really just touching things on the surface,” said Unity Drive School Principal Debbie Wolfe.

So while de Blasio and Cuomo differ publicly on how to pay for universal pre-K, Simon wants the focus shifted to something more elementary: leveling the playing field in kindergarten.

New York state is one of only five states in the nation that doesn’t require school districts to offer any kindergarten much less full-day kindergarten. Critics say that’s where the debate needs to begin.

Three-quarters of American kindergarteners attend full-day programs, including New York City public school children.

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