down the rabbit hole with prek for fall 2015

The dates and new procedures have been announced for the public prek process. Submit one application for prek (for children born in 2011) in public schools as well as Community Based Early Childhood Centers (CBECC) between March 16 -April 24. The applications and directories are not available yet (they will come, but don’t waste time looking for them now). You can access last year’s directories, which will be a good indication of the programs to start with. Rumor has it that placements will be announced on May 29 (they always announce around Memorial Day) and pre-registration will be June 1-19, but nothing official yet. Wait lists will be in effect after that. Info sessions will be held in all boroughs in mid March.

There are about 70-80k students on a grade in the City (not including students in private and parochial programs). We anticipate around 70,000 subsidized prek seats in the fall of 2015, if all goes according to plan. If you took those straight numbers, it looks like almost everyone is going to get a subsidized seat. I am waiting to see what happens before I pop the Champagne.  Around 25k of them will be in public programs. It is unlikely that many more will be added in public schools (you may have noticed that there isn’t much room in many of them these days). Right now there are about 25k in local CBECCs; private programs, daycares, needs based programs. We anticipate the additional seats will mostly be CBECC seats. Placement in the public prek seats will be according to the geographic priorities with a lottery component that the city has been following for years (in-zone sibs, in zone families…). The CBECC seats will go first to children currently enrolled and to siblings and then to the general public by lottery/sorting. I want to express sincere thanks to the Mayor and the foot soldiers at the DoE for this great initiative. Worthy goals like this are not always easy to roll out. Here we go...

I am very pragmatic in my thinking about all this school search stuff. I don’t indulge in talk about how “crazy” this process is. It is complicated and there are many opportunities. Deal with it. But I have finally been broken…
“Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic. – Lewis Carroll

The public prek seats in public schools are new each year. There are no children already attending the school at threes (sibling and zoned children often get those seats, but they are essentially newly created each year). The CBECCs often have twos and threes programs and while their seats will be newly subsidized, it is unlikely that many of them will be adding additional seats in fours (they are also strapped for space). The majority of fours seats in CBECCs will be taken by students already attending at the school and moving up to fours. This is wonderful for the families currently attending those schools. It could also mean that a child zoned for a popular school with few public seats who is not currently attending a private program with UPK funding is still likely to be left out in the cold. And yet, families will be filling out the application with the anticipation that there are seats available in all these programs.

Another wrinkle: This year many of the private CBECCs have already done their applications in the fall and are getting ready to announce placement in the next couple weeks…but they are also going to be listed on the city’s application next month-after their placements have been made. Here is another issue: the city is hoping that all programs will be full time, but the subsidy doesn’t cover the actual full costs of running many of these private programs (high rent, very experienced staff...). I have heard from several schools that if they only ran on the subsidy they would be 10’s or 100’s of thousands of dollars in the hole each year. Because of this, exceptions for “wrap around” fees and schedules have grown up around some programs. This is not ‘monkey business’ but schools sincerely trying to make this public/private hybrid work for their families. I am also very concerned about the school’s and the DoE’s ability to maintain clear and accurate information about availability and wait-lists within this murky hybrid system.

My best advice:

  • Rank schools in the order that you like them.
  • Have a “Plan B”.
  • Keep in contact with the CBECCs that you like to confirm that they even have seats, that you understand their individual issues and that you are actually on their list (in whatever form that will take).

Good luck and I am dusting off my top hat and practicing balancing a tea pot on my head.