NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York City parents are now able to register their children for pre-kindergarten this fall.

The sign-up period began Monday. All 4-year-olds are entitled to a slot in the free program this September. The initial sign-up period ends April 24.

The expansion of pre-kindergarten is a key component of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. His team expanded the allotment of pre-kindergarten seats to more than 50,000 last fall.

The aim is to increase it to more than 70,000 students this September.

Deputy Mayor Richard Buery called pre-k a “critical platform to get ready for kindergarten.”

“Pre-kindergarten is, of course, is a great opportunity for children to learn hundreds of words, to learn numbers, to learn how to write their own names, to learn how to share and work with others,” he told 1010 WINS. “So much more valuable than being at home or watching TV. It can make a critical difference in every child’s life.”

De Blasio originally planned to pay for the program with a tax hike on wealthy New Yorkers.

That proposal failed in Albany. But the mayor’s lobbying led to the state increasing its allocation of funds to pay for the program.

For more information about the program, click here.

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