Free preschool for 4-year-olds was a signature issue that helped New York City’s mayor win office in 2013.
Now up for re-election, Bill de Blasio wants to add thousands of classroom seats for 3-year-olds, too.
His initiative, which could eventually enroll up to 62,000 kids, would be among the largest public investments in preschool in the United States for children that young.
A few states, including Florida and Oklahoma, have universal, publicly funded pre-K for 4-year-olds, but such programs for 3-year-olds are much more rare.
Education advocates said the plan announced last week by de Blasio, a Democrat, could be a national model if it succeeds.
“The kind of research it’s going to generate, as well as student outcomes, are going to show that it’s possible at scale to build a public system for preschool, and that’s never been done,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of Bank Street College of Education, who served as deputy New York City schools chancellor under de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
A successful rollout could also help de Blasio raise his national political profile, something he aspired to do in his first term but couldn’t quite achieve as two other New Yorkers — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — took center stage.
New York City rolled out universal prekindergarten for 4-year-olds over just two years after de Blasio took office. The program now serves nearly 70,000 children in a public school district with 1.1 million pupils.
Under de Blasio’s plan, free preschool for 3-year-olds will start this fall in two low-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and then expand citywide by 2021.
The mayor said research shows that children who are enrolled in high-quality preschool at age 3 grow up to earn higher salaries and enjoy better health than their peers who didn’t attend preschool or who attended lower-quality programs. It can also reduce the burden on working parents who would otherwise have to pay for…