Preschool Slots Increase, But For Wealthier Families First, Study Says

(The Washington Post) -

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push to provide universal preschool to the city’s 4-year-olds has so far disproportionately benefited children from middle- and upper-income families, according to a report that is being disputed by the mayor’s office.

In the first year of expansion, the number of pre-kindergarten seats in the city’s public schools increased by 36 percent in Zip codes where families earn more than the city’s average income of $51,865, according to the analysis of city data by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley.

That was more than twice the rate of growth in the poorest quartile of city Zip codes, the study found.

The report questions whether the new slots are being allocated fairly. It also questions whether the imbalance could exacerbate the inequalities and achievement gap that the program seeks to address.

“The evidence is quite strong that pre-K lifts kids from poor communities. It’s much weaker in that it lifts kids from affluent or middle-class families,” said Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy who directed the study and who has opposed universal approaches to preschool expansion. “If we are going to move toward universal pre-K, let’s ramp it up carefully.”

De Blasio campaigned on a pledge to provide free, full-day pre-kindergarten for all of the city’s 4-year-olds.

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman at City Hall, said the Berkeley study is based on “errors and false assumptions.”

“Our pre-K expansion,” Norvell said, “is reaching thousands of low-income families in its first year and is providing this free, life-changing opportunity to families in greatest need.”

De Blasio’s administration added more than 23,000 slots. These are comprised of a combination of new full-day seats and the conversion of half-day seats to full day, by the start of this school year in public schools or community organizations.

It was a big boost from the 58,528 previous seats.