Tracking NYC’s Pre-K Rollout

Data visualization by Amanda Hickman. To view a larger version of the map, click here.

As the ambitious universal prekindergarten program championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio passes its first major milestone on the road to implementation, parents across the city, including many immigrant parents new to the city school system, are scrambling to find places for their children.

NY Immigrant ExperienceToday, April 23, is the deadline for families with 4-year-olds to apply for the seats in public schools. The Department of Education has released the list of 20,387 available pre-K seats in 598 public schools, but families will have to wait a few more weeks to find out the location of the remaining 33,000 seats in approved community-based organizations that the city has promised to offer in September.

Two days before the deadline, Zaida Brocero in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, had not yet settled on which school-based programs to apply to for her twins Zachaliz and Zabriella, despite visiting a half-dozen in her district.

“It’s a lot to check,” she said. “I want the school to be secure — to look at the teachers, what they offer in the day.”

Pre-K seats may be in short supply in some neighborhoods around the city, especially those districts already suffering from overcrowding.

The immigrant advocacy group Make the Road NY has been working for several years on overcrowding issues in Corona and Elmhurst, Queens — neighborhoods with large numbers of immigrant families. Lead organizer Daniel Coates said that the organization is concerned that the distribution of seats may not match the community’s needs.

“In Corona, there’s not a lot of pre-K seats in the schools, even if you include what’s possible with the [community-based] providers,” he said.

Voices of NY has plotted the schools with approved pre-K programs on an interactive map above. These schools will provide about 40 percent of the 53,000 seats that the Department of Education estimates will be available for the 2014-2015 school year, with the remaining seats to be located at the community-based organizations. (CBOs that currently offer pre-K programs are also plotted on the map above, but they have not yet been approved as part of the universal pre-K program.) A spokesman for the DOE said the agency could not yet release a finalized list of CBO seats because the community organizations must be approved by the Panel of Educational Policy at its May 29 meeting.

Currently, he explained, those community-based organizations are in the process of being reviewed to make sure they meet the same space, safety, personnel and program standards to which school-based programs must adhere. Because organizations that have offered programs in the past were not official DOE providers, “even organizations that have had half-day programs have had to reapply to be considered for the full-day program,” said DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield.

The DOE data released so far paints only a partial picture of where this fall’s 53,000 seats will be, but Voices of NY’s analysis of the available data — the seats slotted for schools and the probable sites of pre-K programs at community-based organizations — indicates that the DOE and the city’s parents may face a crunch for seats in some neighborhoods. In the map below, Voices of NY estimates where the city’s 124,791 four-year-olds live using Department of Health data on babies born in 2010 by neighborhood.

The city’s estimates of 53,000 seats for the 2014-15 school year and 73,000 seats for 2015-16 take account of the fact that pre-K is not compulsory, that some children may enroll in private programs and that some may move out of the city. Nonetheless, comparing available and likely seats (shown in the map above) with births (shown in the map below) is a good proxy for showing where shortfalls may occur. Neighborhoods with high birth rates in 2010 — including Northern Queens, Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Brooklyn’s neighborhoods of Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill — may not end up with enough pre-K seats.

Data visualization by Amanda Hickman. To view a larger version of the map, click here.

For immigrants — and other working parents across the city — full-day pre-K could lift a huge expense, worry and burden, and make holding down a full-time job much easier.

Nural Turkman, from Turkey, has already applied for pre-K for her daughter, Melody, 4, at P.S. 217 in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. However, the school currently offers only a 2.5-hour program, not a full day, and Turkmen said she’s not sure whether that will change under the new mayor’s universal pre-K plan.

A full-day program would make a huge difference in her life, Turkmen said, adding that she quit her job in marketing research to take care of her children a few months ago, after realizing she would have to spend most of her paycheck on childcare.

“I would like to work,” she said. “But two-and-a-half hours is not enough. If it’s going to be full-time, then I can go back to work.”

The city and community organizations like Make the Road have worked hard to get the word out about the available services. “Our communities really fought for this, and we want people to have access,” said Coates.

In addition to running $300,000 worth of ads in nine languages on bus shelters, buses, subways and taxis, the Mayor’s office has sent out dozens of outreach workers to public events in communities with large immigrant populations, such as a bike helmet giveaway in Washington Heights and a health fair in Bushwick. The workers, often with tablet computers in hand, give parents information on how to apply, or sign them up on the spot. The city’s prekindergarten directory (PDF) is available in nine languages.

Families who miss today’s deadline to sign up for school-based seats can still secure seats in community-based organizations, once those spots are approved by the end of May.

“A lot of work will remain after April 23, to fill seats in the communities,” said Randi Levine, director of the Early Childhood Education Project at Advocates for Children. She said that overall her organization has been pleased with the Department of Education’s attention to families whose first language is not English, but that special challenges remain for immigrant families, including finding bilingual programs if necessary. “We want to make sure there is translation and interpretation, and a variety of programs for children who are English language learners,” she said. “Some of the challenges are the same as in the K-12 system,” such as finding enough certified bilingual teachers.

Voices of NY will follow the matching process between children and seats over the coming weeks. And we need your help. Please let us know your stories about applying for prekindergarten and what’s happening in your area by filling out the form below:


  1. Theo Bear says:

    10,000 students got ZERO pre k last few years, why not focus on those kids first before attempting full day

  2. Pingback: Maps | Bjellis Blog

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