More than 10 years after New York’s political and education leaders promised to work toward providing access to pre-kindergarten classes to every 4-year-old across the state, more than a third of the 677 local school districts have no such programs. Last year, fewer than 91,000 children attended state-financed pre-kindergarten classes — 38 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds.
The early promise of universal pre-kindergarten programs was undermined by state budget problems, especially after 9/11, and local districts were never required to offer them. But even as funding dedicated to pre-kindergarten has more than doubled over the last three years, hundreds of mainly suburban and rural districts have rejected the state money, with many saying they would have to cut other things or raise taxes to establish the programs.
Last year, local districts passed up $67.5 million of the $438 million the state set aside for pre-K.
“Universal pre-K is an idea that looks good on paper, but it doesn’t work for a district of this size,” said Superintendent Edward Ehmann of the Smithtown school district on Long Island, which turned down $459,000 in state aid because, he said, it would cover only a quarter of the cost of providing pre-kindergarten to 750 children.