Stalled for five years, New Jersey’s pledge to expand access to public preschool for low-income students statewide got a boost from the federal government yesterday, with the announcement of $17 million in additional funds for next year and more than $66 million over four years.
The federal money will be steered to 19 districts that would have received additional state funding under a 2008 law seeking to expand the Abbott v. Burke equity mandates for preschool beyond the 31 districts directly covered under those rulings.
While not facing needs as severe as the so-called Abbott school districts, these communities nonetheless have large concentrations of low- and moderate-income residents. The law identified more than 90 districts that would qualify.
But with a potential price tag of as much as $330 million, those promises of expanded preschool programs were quickly broken — just four more communities were added before the expansion stopped altogether in 2010.
The federal grant revives that expansion, at least to a degree, and is one of the largest bestowed by President Obama’s administration yesterday as part of a quarter-billion-dollar federal investment in preschool. Eighteen states overall received grants, which will range from $2 million to $24 million in the first year.
New Jersey’s money will go toward serving 2,000 4-year-old students, a significant step forward, said advocates, although it is still well short of the state’s earlier pledge to serve up to 35,000 more 3- and 4-year-olds in these communities.
More than 1,200 students in the 19 communities being added will be provided with quality preschool programs that include certified teachers, small class sizes and a full curriculum, the standards required under Abbott. Another 1,000 students elsewhere will see their programs improved to those standards, officials said.
“This is incredible news for New Jersey’s children and families,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, a leading player in pressing for the preschool expansion. “This means that thousands more New Jersey children will have access to a quality preschool that can help them arrive at kindergarten ready to learn.”
The 19 additional communities to be served are the following:
The federal government also announced it will provide $8.9 million to five New Jersey childcare centers to improve the quality of their preschool programs. They are the following: