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PRESCHOOL EXPANSION SUBJECT OF JOINT COMMITTEE HEARING

ELC HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR PRESCHOOL FACILITIES

Newark, NJ — October 20, 2008

The Joint Committee on Public Schools heard testimony on October 14, 2008 on the state’s plan to undertake a major expansion of public preschool. The School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA) commits New Jersey to enrolling 30,000 additional young children in a high quality preschool program by 2013. The preschool expansion initiative is modeled on the highly successful Abbott preschool program, which currently serves nearly 40,000 three- and four-year-old children in the 31 school districts covered by the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 1998 remedial order in Abbott v. Burke. The Committee hearing was fittingly held in the Glenn Cunningham Early Childhood Center in Jersey City, NJ, a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility that was built with Abbott school construction funding to serve young children with funding provided under the Abbott preschool program.

Ellen Boylan, Esq., senior attorney at Education Law Center, provided the Committee with testimony  on the additional facilities needed to serve all eligible children under the state’s preschool expansion plan. SFRA requires school districts with high concentrations of poverty, defined in the Act as all DFG A and B school districts and CD districts with an at-risk concentration of 40% or more, to offer universal, full-day preschool to all three- and four-year olds, and all other school districts in the state to offer a targeted program to all at-risk preschoolers.

ELC prepared tables  showing each school district’s unmet need for new, additional preschool seats. The need is substantial in many districts. In universal districts, an estimated 17,316 new children must be offered the opportunity to participate; ten universal districts must find facilities for more than 500 children, and one district, Bayonne, must serve 1,253 additional children. In targeted districts, there are 14,536 potential new preschoolers; ten targeted districts must find space for more than 300 children, and one district, Woodbridge Township, must serve an additional 413 children. ELC emphasized that amendments to the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act (EFCFA) provide the expansion districts with limited funding for construction or alteration of early childhood facilities. In the absence of additional facilities funding, the expansion districts will be hard pressed to meet SFRA’s mandate of serving 90% of eligible preschoolers by year 2013.

Table 1. Top 15 Universal Preschool Districts with Greatest Unmet Need

District DFG Estimated
Universe of
Eligible
Children
Existing
Full-Day
Pre-K
Estimated
Unmet
Pre-K Need
Bayonne City CD 1,312 59 1,253*
North Bergen Twp B 968 0 968*
Atlantic City A 1,038 184 854
Linden City B 746 0 746*
Kearny Town B 728 0 728*
Pennsauken Twp CD 716 0 716*
Carteret Boro B 526 0 526*
Hackensack City CD 670 163 507
Berkeley Twp B 494 0 494*
Rahway City CD 488 0 488*
Lodi Borough B 444 0 444*
Dover Town A 444 0 444*
Little Egg Harbor Twp B 430 0 430*
Lower Twp B 390 0 390*
Manchester Twp B 380 0 380
* District has some existing half-day preschool seats.
Source: NJ DOE http://www.state.nj.us/education/ece/expansion/universe.pdf

Table 2. Top 15 Targeted Preschool Districts with Greatest Unmet Need

District DFG Estimated
Universe of
 Eligible
Children
Existing
Full-Day
Pre-K
Estimated
Unmet
Pre-K Need
Woodbridge Twp DE 413 0 413
Gloucester Twp DE 393 0 393*
Clifton City CD 386 0 386
Hamilton Twp FG 371 0 371*
Toms River Regional DE 348 0 348
Egg Harbor Twp CD 335 0 335*
Franklin Twp GH 332 0 332*
Lakewood Twp   582 261 321*
Winslow Twp CD 331 40 291
Bloomfield Twp DE 251 0 251*
Edison Twp GH 238 0 238*
West Orange Town GH 231 0 231
Hamilton Twp CD 216 0 216
Monroe Twp CD 213 0 213*
Belleville Town CD 206 0 206*
* District has some existing half-day preschool seats.
Source: NJ DOE http://www.state.nj.us/education/ece/expansion/universe.pdf

ELC also stressed the facilities challenges faced by the community preschool programs and Head Start agencies that will provide preschool under partnerships with the expansion districts. No state funding is available under EFCFA or any other source for construction or alteration of non-district preschool facilities, even though it is anticipated that, as in the Abbott districts, community programs will play a key role in serving eligible preschool children. ELC urged the Committee to take the following steps in order to move preschool expansion forward:

  • Require expansion districts to submit or revise Long Range Facilities Plans to plan for serving all eligible preschool students by 2013 in in-district and community programs.
  • Amend the new preschool regulations, N.J.A.C. 6A:13A-7.1, to ensure that all children attend school in facilities that meet the state’s preschool facility standards.
  • Form a Preschool Facilities Task Force to study and develop a creative, concrete and comprehensive plan to address New Jersey’s preschool facilities needs.
Education Law Center Press Contact:
Ellen Boylan
Senior Attorney
email: eboylan@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x18