Our position is as follows:
Too many New York City children enter kindergarten at a learning deficit. And by third grade, 70% are not reading at grade level which makes them four times more likely to drop out of high school. Each time a student misses a milestone, it becomes much more costly and complex to catch them up. Remediation strains our city and tens of thousands of children fall through the cracks.
This does not work. Not for children, schools, communities or our City. United Way of New York City is committed to getting it right from the beginning. READ NYC, our campaign to dramatically improve third grade reading levels, is dedicated to doing just that. We believe that early childhood education is a necessary and critical investment for us all. While it is not a panacea, it is indeed a critical building block for school readiness. And readiness for school puts children on the pathway for college, career and better life outcomes.
We applaud both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio’s commitments to early childhood education. They are both in support of establishing universal pre-kindergarten (UPK). We agree; we cannot afford to lose any more time in addressing this systemic issue. New York City needs a quality, full-day universal pre-K system with the capacity and scale to serve 73,250 four-year olds - equal to the number of kindergarten seats in our city’s public school system - within the next two years. We need an implementation plan that is prepared to support the infrastructure required for quality: a trained, appropriately compensated teaching force; evidenced based programming; appropriate facilities; and effective systems.
For a project of this scale, New York City projects a cost of $350 million for the first year at $10,239 per child – still lower than many model pre-K programs across the country. Any mandate for UPK must come with a dedicated, reliable, multi-year funding stream. It must be fully and predictably resourced so that we can build capacity for effective implementation, continuous improvement, and long-term sustainability. We must also not risk benefits from UPK being undercut by the loss of critical support services that serve the same population. Accordingly, resources for UPK must not be appropriated from the K - 12 system or other programs with demonstrated effectiveness.
United Way of New York City supports a solution that benefits everyone. It is to our mutual benefit to ensure that the City is in the best possible place to implement a top quality, effective UPK system. Poor performance and low achievement by students imposes a lasting, substantial cost to our City. This is compounded by the costs from a workforce without the skills and competencies required. And this affects everyone, not just people with children in schools. Along with our United Way colleagues across the state, we support a statewide effort to make UPK a reality. The time is now.