The Independent Budget Office today released Implementing Universal Prekindergarten in New York City, which reveals that the city faces major challenges in implementing a New York State initiative guaranteeing prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds. Because the level of state funding is uncertain and will cover only part of the program's annual operating cost, the city likely will need to spend over $150 million a year. Furthermore, many city schools are overcrowded and there is already an effort underway to reduce early grade class sizes, so at least 3,000 new classrooms-costing $3.2 billion-would be needed to provide universal pre-k and meet the class size reduction target.
In 1997 New York State enacted universal prekindergarten, which would provide half-day sessions for all 4-year-olds. The program is being phased in over four years, from 1998-99 to 2001-02, and provides state funding for participating school districts. Some localities, including New York City, however, are supplementing the state funds.
IBO projects that when fully implemented in 2001-02, New York City will have between 71,500 and 90,000 children enrolled in universal prekindergarten. This is a five-fold increase from the 14,000 enrolled in the 1998-99 school year.
The Board of Education (BOE) plans to reduce the demand for its space by contracting with community-based organizations to serve 75 percent of the students. Still, BOE would need between 397 and 526 classrooms in-house for pre-k. This need coincides with the city's effort to reduce the average class size in kindergarten to 3rd grade to 20 students (last year's average k-3 class had 24.9 students). Furthermore, over three-fifths of elementary school students already attend overcrowded schools. IBO estimates that to fully implement pre-k and meet the class size reduction target, between 2,979 and 3,101 classrooms would be needed, at a cost exceeding $3.2 billion.
IBO's analysis shows that space needs vary greatly by community school district. At least 18 of the 32 school districts need over 100 classrooms each and only three districts have adequate space for these programs. The report details the space each district will need for pre-k and class size reduction and identifies space already available in BOE facilities and in licensed child care centers.
BOE estimates the program costs $3,700 per student annually to operate. State funding for New York City is determined by a formula that does not necessarily correspond to the number of students enrolled. In the current year, the state is providing $67 million, or $2,325 per student expected to enroll. If, however, the state provides its legal minimum funding of $2,000 per student when the program is fully implemented, the city would have to provide the balance, or $1,700 per child.
This translates into a city cost of between $122 million and $153 million annually, depending on enrollment. Added to this would be the $24 million to $28 million annual debt service and leasing costs associated with addressing the space shortage.
Furthermore, the state's future participation was called into question when, as part of the 1999-2000 Executive Budget, the Governor proposed to eliminate the universal prekindergarten program and substitute a flat, flexible block grant. The proposal was not enacted, but does raise questions about the program's future.
IBO is an independent city agency whose mission is to provide non-partisan budgetary, economic and policy analysis for the residents of New York City and their elected officials, and to increase New Yorkers' understanding of and participation in the budget process.