Mayor Bill de Blasio greeted scores of prekindergarten students Thursday on the first day of school and the first day of his ambitious expansion of early childhood education.
“Everything that we’ve done over the last few years is working toward this day,” de Blasio said after visiting a classroom at Inner Force Tots in Brooklyn, a community-based organization that’s part of the pre-K program.
He said full-day pre-K “is one of the fundamental ways to shake the foundation of this school system.”
City officials said 51,500 full-day pre-K students were enrolled as of Thursday, up from 20,000 last year. They said the number will be up to 53,000 by the end of the month.
De Blasio, who made expanded pre-K the main theme of his mayoral campaign last year, planned to celebrate his achievement by touring pre-K sites in all five boroughs.
“We made it the centerpiece of all we tried to do. For Chirlane and I, this is a moment of fulfillment,” he said, referring to his wife, Chirlane McCray.
Many of the city’s new pre-K seats are in religious schools that have been given guidelines on keeping religious instruction out of their public-school classes.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan joined de Blasio at a Catholic school on Staten Island, which tripled its pre-K capacity this year. “Mayor, I have bad news,” Dolan joked. “We missed the snack.”
The victory lap was meant to calm fears that the city might be expanding pre-K too rapidly.