NYC proposes expansion of free preschool to include 3-year-olds

FILE PHOTO: Long Beach preschool teacher, Anabel Lopez, leads children in a round of singing and dancing.
FILE PHOTO: Long Beach preschool teacher, Anabel Lopez, leads children in a round of singing and dancing.
Deepa Fernandes / KPCC

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New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio wants to expand his city’s free preschool program to include three-year-olds, a move that would leave California trailing behind in efforts to give kids an early start on learning.

Four-year-olds in New York already have access to free preschool. Plans by the city’s mayor announced Monday would extend the full-day, early childhood education program to all 3-year-olds by 2021. 

Kim Pattillo Brownson, vice president of policy and strategy for First5 in Los Angeles, said New York’s move should be a wake-up call for policymakers in California.

"It really suggests that early learning should be a higher priority for us in this region," Brownson said.

She said the New York plan signals that other cities and counties understand that universal preschool addresses fundamental fairness for disadvantaged communities, but also provides a competitive advantage. Young families, Brownson said, "actually want to go to places that are investing in young children.”

In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a freeze in funding for early childhood education programs. That means an additional $226 million dollars that had been promised for preschool programs may not materialize.

Brown’s revised budget is due next month. Lawmakers have until June 15 to approve a final spending plan.

De Blasio said his city hopes to launch a pilot of the "3-K" program next fall year at a cost of $36 million. But the state and federal governments would have to pitch in.

The cost would rise to $177 million when the program is fully in place. The program would initially focus on low-income districts in the South Bronx and Brownville, Brooklyn.

De Blasio, who is seeking reelection, has promoted universal pre-K as his administration's signature achievement. The administration says the city has more than tripled the number of 4-year-olds enrolled in free, full-day pre-K.