Newspaper article

New York City's Pre-K Program Adds 12,000 Kids; Only 195 Come from Poorest ZIP Codes

Newspaper article

New York City's Pre-K Program Adds 12,000 Kids; Only 195 Come from Poorest ZIP Codes

Article excerpt

Mayor Bill de Blasio's universal pre-K program has seen registrations increase by 12,000 children in its second year of operations, with double-digit percentage increases across income levels except for one group: those who need it the most.

New data obtained by ProPublica that compares pre-K registration with a student's home ZIP code shows that the program added only 195 kids from the bottom 20 percent of ZIP codes by household income.

That is an increase of just under 1 percent for families that make less than $38,000 a year. All other income groups saw large percentage increases from 27 percent to 43 percent.

The stark contrast between those at the very bottom and everybody else is important because decades of academic research have shown that children from low-income families who attend pre-K benefit immensely, but those benefits decrease as you move up the income ladder and may even disappear beyond the middle class. The universal pre-K program was a hallmark of de Blasio's campaign to make free pre-K education a right for every New Yorker and to narrow achievement gaps, which start very early in child development.

"I honestly don't see how the mayor will narrow early disparities in children's learning until he focuses more directly on poor communities, lifting low-income families," said Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley professor who has analyzed the city's universal pre-K program and provided ProPublica with his analysis of the newest numbers.

Students in the lowest 20 percent of ZIP codes are still the most represented across the program. They make up almost a third of this year's 65,000 registrations. And city officials said they expect their numbers to go up. Last year, the Department of Education first announced 51,500 registrations, but an additional 1,620 students ended up enrolling. If history repeats itself (and assuming every single new student comes from the bottom group), enrollment growth in the poorest ZIP codes would reach nearly 9 percent this year. But even this hypothetical percentage growth would be three to five times less than the growth of the other income groups this year. It's also 15 times less than the bottom income group's growth in 2014 when it expanded by 138 percent.

"Once you successfully engage the first layer of poor income families it gets harder and harder to engage the deeper and deeper layers of families," Fuller said. "You are now talking about going to the housing projects and knocking on doors, reaching out to the families in Spanish and Cantonese. You are talking about reaching immigrant families who might be mistrustful of government."

This is exactly the kind of outreach city officials say they are doing.

"We have over 20 full-time people that are dedicated to reaching out to communities all over the city, who speak many languages," said Josh Wallack, Deputy Chancellor at the city's Department of Education who directly oversees the pre-K program. …

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