District 20 starved for Pre-K seats

March 20, 2013 Denise Romano
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District 20 has the greatest deficit of seats for pre-kindergarteners in the city, according to a report released earlier this month by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

Applications for Pre-K seats in city schools outweigh the number of seats in every borough, at a rate of four to one in Brooklyn and Staten Island. For District 20, there are more than eight applicants for every available slot, according to the report.

Parents are struggling to find a spot for their child, including Ridgeite Kate Lezama.

Her oldest son, Jeremiah, is a first grader at P.S. 971, the new school building located at Fourth Avenue and 63rd Street. But her youngest son, Miles, who is four years old, could not get a seat at the school.

“When we applied for Miles this past school year, the Department of Education changed the sibling policy for Pre-K. Needless to say it’s been disappointing that I was unable to offer my second child the same amazing experience as I was able to offer my first,” Lezama told this paper.

She added that Miles is currently enrolled in a private pre-school that offers universal Pre-K sessions free charge. The program is state funded but there are only two and half hours of instruction, not a full day of classes.

“[It’s] nice, but shorter in length and not of the same caliber as the public school program we wanted,” Lezama concluded.

Laurie Windsor, president of Community Education Council District 20, said that the report was “no big surprise” to her. “We know this is an issue because we don’t have enough seats in kindergarten,” she explained. “A lot of our families are going private, especially if the public school near them doesn’t have all day Pre-K.”

Windsor noted that these families are “willing to pay” for all-day nursery and Pre-K programs at local parochial schools and at private institutions like Smart Start, Stepping Stones and Tutor Time.

“[Overcrowding] is an issue in areas where there is a higher concentration of immigrants, like Sunset Park,” Windsor said.

De Blasio says that such a situation can’t be the norm. “We can’t continue to be a city where only a fraction of our kids has access to early education, and where working parents have to roll the dice every year and hope they’re lucky enough to secure a seat. It’s 2013, and it’s time for truly universal Pre-K in New York City,” he contended.

The Department of Education did not return a request for comment.

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