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NEW JERSEY MOVES TOWARD UNIVERSAL PRESCHOOL, BUT CHALLENGES REMAIN

New Jersey is making progress towards enrolling all three-and four-year olds in urban communities, as required by the Abbott v. Burke rulings. But without additional classroom space and more aggressive recruitment efforts, reaching that goal will be difficult. These and other findings are contained in a Report on implementation of the Abbott preschool program issued by Education Law Center on October 29th.

The Report entitled, "The Abbott Preschool Program: Fifth Year Report on Enrollment and Budget," was prepared by ELC researchers Erain Applewhite and Lesley Hirsch.

The Report documents that the Abbott districts will enroll close to 80 percent of the universe of three- and four-year old children in Court-mandated preschool programs this year. Among the Report’s key findings are:

  • An estimated 19,000 eligible children did not attend preschool last year, most likely because there was not sufficient classroom space to accommodate them.
  • Federal-funded Head Start classrooms serving an estimated 5,000 children still must be upgraded to meet Abbott quality standards, as required by the Abbott rulings.
  • The majority of children with disabilities are educated in segregated classroom settings, contrary to federal law.

While New Jersey continues to make progress towards universal preschool, more work remains to be done. The Report recommends that the State Education Department lead an aggressive effort to expand classroom capacity to enroll more children; lower class size and ensure certified teachers in every Head Start classroom; and eliminate inappropriate, segregated classrooms for children with disabilities.

According to ELC Executive Director David Sciarra, the Report documents how the Abbott rulings are moving New Jersey into the forefront of the nation in providing preschool to children in high-poverty communities.