FREEPORT, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Educators are calling it a crisis on Long Island, where more than 90 percent of four-year-olds are not entitled to publicly funded Pre-K.
Now, a group of them are on a mission to change that.
Four-year-old twins Olivia and Natalia attend Pre-K thanks to their single mom who pays for it privately because she believes it’s an essential part of early learning.
“From seeing what happens to children who don’t receive these services and are not getting it, their success in school is really limited,” the twins’ mom Michelle Cohen told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff.
The vast majority of families on Long Island don’t have access to full-day Pre-K. In New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio is crusading for it, 100 percent of four-year-olds are served. On Long Island, the least funded region in the state, only seven percent of children attend.
“All families on Long Island are struggling and working hard and we all deserve to give our children the same start that NYC families are being able to give their children,” Jennifer Rojas from the Child Care Council of Suffolk County said.
On Monday, a chorus of support called for change.
“On paper it looks like New York State has made a big investment, but when you count heads it’s time there are too many kids being left out,” Executive Director of the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services for Nassau County said.
They’re being left out, educators say, because the state requires school districts to compete for Pre-K grants based on the financial need.
“It’s important that these kids get the opportunity to get early childhood education as soon as possible and I’m not interested in this competition business,” State Senator Carl Marcellino (R-5th) said. “That’s nonsense.”
In Freeport, there’s a waiting list for their Pre-K program due to funding cuts. The superintendent says the benefits are clear; every dollar spent on this form of early education pays dividends later in life with academic career success.
“Where there’s the most of human development, we have been spending the least amount of investment,” Freeport Superintendent Kishore Kuncham said.
Advocates for universal Pre-K on Long Island say they have not yet estimated the cost of the investment, but warn not investing could cost much more.
On Monday, the New York State Board of Regents proposed $1.6 billion increase in funding for schools, including $37 million for an expansion of early education.