Secondary Navigation

Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Announces 22,000 Families Apply for Pre-K in First Day

March 17, 2015

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Thank you so much. Thank you, Stella. We really appreciate you being a part of this today, and thank you for having devoted yourself to helping our kids. Now, you said thank you before to me and I don’t know what verb you used about what I did for pre-k, but I played a modest role in helping to bring more pre-k to kids in New York City. But Stella, again, thank you, and thank you to everyone who’s here in this work, because the teachers, the administrators, the staff, everyone who applies themselves in early childhood education – I’ve met so many individuals all over the five boroughs – it is a labor of love.

People in early childhood education are true believers. They understand the potential of our children, they do something about it, they give themselves to bring out that potential.

And I want to just thank everyone who’s here. And I want to thank everyone who is helping us to promote this extraordinary opportunity for our children. I want to thank all of those wearing our very colorful and elegant pre-k t-shirts today for helping to spread the word, because it makes such a difference for kids to have this opportunity and for parents to know it is available.

And since it is pre-k application season again, I will be repeating frequently that it is free – full-day, high quality pre-k for free. In this school year, there will be a seat available for every pre-k-age child in New York City – literally, every pre-k-age child in New York City will have a seat in the course of this year.

So, the application period has begun. We want to make sure everyone is aware of the fact that it is very simple to apply – and applying now is the smart thing to do. Apply right away – the application period has just begun – it will go through April 24th – but do not wait. Help build your child’s future right now. Apply today for full-day, high quality pre-k for your child.

Children born in 2011 are eligible, so any family with children born in 2011 should sign up online – – again, – or call 3-1-1 and representatives will help you with the application process, or text – text PREK – P-R-E-K – to 877877.

Now – boy, have the people in this city heard the call, and we have an amazing number to show you – even the difference between last year and this in how much consciousness there is among parents about the value of pre-k. Last year, we talked about it a lot, a lot of people focused, a lot of people got engaged, and on day one last year of pre-k applications, 6,500 parents applied for their children – 6,500. Day one this year – 22,000 applications came in. 22,000 applications – over three times as many parents applied yesterday for pre-k as the same day last year. That is an amazing example of how much this has captured the imagination of parents and how much they increasingly understand how pivotal it is for their children.

I want to thank so many people who made this possible – no one more so than our deputy mayor, Richard Buery, who had to take this extraordinary mission, and with very few months to prepare, got us to the point of having 53,000 kids in pre-k this last September. This next jump is going to be a big one. He’s up for the task. His team is up for the task. I want to thank you for extraordinary leadership, Richard.

I want to thank everyone at DOE, everyone at ACS, who was part of making this happen. It has been a tremendous team effort.

I of course want to thank our colleagues in elective office – Speaker Mark-Viverito, Borough President Brewer – you’ll hear from them in a moment. They’ve been tremendously supportive. And so many elected officials have used their offices to spread the word and to help us in all the outreach efforts. And many, many staff and parent coordinators at the school level – volunteers from all over the city have been part of this. You’ll remember, last year, we crisscrossed the city, engaging parents. That’s happening as we speak again this year. So it’s really an exciting moment.

Now, this school epitomizes what we believe in – the Emily N. Carey Harbor Preschool. It is a beautiful facility. There is a great energy among the team here – and the speaker and I had the joy of just seeing the music and movement class. There was a lot of movement in the music and movement class. The kids are very, very engaged – energetic teachers. There is a great sense in the room of the kids really connecting with what they’re there to do.

Now, I’m a layman – I’m not an educator, but I’m a parent, and I can tell you what I saw. I saw kids who were highly engaged; who were well organized; they were used to being in a group setting; they paid attention to their teachers; they knew what to do; when it’s time to count, they could all count; they listened to the instructions; they were ready for more. When you talk to teachers about what it means for kids to have gotten that depth of experience at the pre-k level, and what it means they will bring to kindergarten and first grade, it is such a difference-maker – and you could see that here. I hope everyone here is so proud of it.

Kids are adding to their capacity every day in pre-k – they’re learning vocabulary, they’re learning how to work together more deeply, they’re developing a love for the arts. It happens very quickly – when you’re four-years-old, your mind develops more quickly – it’s something special. We always talk about how children who are three or four can learn a foreign language, and the rest of us – if we try to learn a foreign language at our ages, we would have a hell of a time with it. But at that age, kids are sponges, they can learn so quickly, and you can see upstairs that it’s working. I want to thank everyone here, especially our host, the executive director, Dr. Thomas Howard, and the chief academic officer, Pam Terry.

This school here – this pre-k is one of hundreds of free, high-quality, early education centers that are accepting applications right now for the school year that begins in September. Again, we’re going to have a lot more kids in pre-k coming this next school year.

At this moment we’re around 53,000 kids in all our pre-k programs combined. Next year, we expect to get closer to 70,000. And that number – we’re going to learn in the next few months what the demand level is – but what’s going to be great about it is there will be a seat – in the course of the next school year – there will be a seat for every single child who wants one.

We did last year’s improvement – or expansion – in record time. We basically had about five months from the time the funding was approved to go from 20,000 full-day seats to 53,000. This time – thank God – we have a lot more time and expertise, but it’s still a big jump that we have to achieve. We need the state to help us, and when I gave my budget testimony in Albany, I agreed with the recommendation of the regents – the state regents who said this program should be funded with $370 million dollars of state resources. I agree with that and we are pushing for that in Albany so can keep this progress going.

We know that we’re going to benefit every child we reach. Every child who is reached will change. It will change the course of that child’s future. It will change the course of the whole family’s future. So we’re going to leave no stone unturned.

The application process this year is much improved – it’s much simpler, it’s totally consolidated. Last year, we came in at the middle of the school year – we had to do our best to put together a working system. This year, one system fits all – one application fits all. You can go online and apply for any pre-k site in the city online – again, you can call 3-1-1. Before you had to do different applications for different schools, or go physically to the schools. Now, everything can be done by phone or email.

We’re also going to have an extensive outreach operation throughout the neighborhoods. It’s not just the phone banks and the emails and the texting operation – we’re going to be out at street fairs and in parks and at community events. I was up at Yankee Stadium on Sunday for the first game of NYCFC and we were leafletting for pre-k – we got a great response from parents.

We’ll be having community fairs promoting pre-k in all five boroughs. It’s going to be a huge, coordinated action – effort, I should say – and in April, there will be a specific day of action where volunteers from all over the city will simultaneously fan out, and we’re going to hit everywhere, including, as we did last time, the barber shops and the beauty salons and any place there are parents or aunts or uncles or grandmothers or grandfathers who need to get this message.

Why? Because we know it will fundamentally change the lives of the children. We also believe, in this administration, in tackling inequality. If you’re going to tackle inequality, pre-k does it in two ways. It does it in the immediate term because for those families who do not have a free option for their children – if you’re looking for private childcare, daycare, it could be as much as $10,000 a year. For a lot of families, they’ve had to make a very tough choice – are both parents or the single parent going to be able to work? Are they going to be able to work full-time? Or are they going to shell out the money for an appropriate program for their child? And will it be a good enough program? We’re taking that pressure and stress off the table. This is a value – again, a typical value of about $10,000. It will be free. It will be available citywide. So, right there, you’re taking away a huge expense and stress and challenge for a lot of families, but pre-k, of course, frames the future. It has a huge impact on fighting inequality going forward, because the children who get this grounding – and it’s been proven time and time again – they will do better in school. They have a greater chance of graduating, they have a greater chance of getting into a rewarding career – so this sets up a future for a more equal society.

I’m going to just say – one little example – if you’re wondering what pre-k does to quickly develop the minds of children, some of you may have been present last year – my all time favorite pre-k story in Queens – when one of the young people at the pre-k we were visiting popped out with the word “metamorphosis” after we had read The Very Hungry Caterpillar. So, there’s a four-year-old accurately using the world metamorphosis. So here’s to this year’s new example, from a woman named Veronica [inaudible], and she has a son named Harlan – Harlan came home from pre-k the other day. He had paint all over him from the activity at the pre-k, and she asked him what they had done at pre-k that day, and this is a quote from Harlan, four years old, he said, we “created our own Jackson Pollock paintings.” So now we’ve got four-year-olds in New York City who know about Jackson Pollock and abstract expressionism – you don’t know how far this could go – amazing things happening because these young minds are ready for it.

I want to finish by saying, you know, this is the time – and I am a parent. Many of you know I’m in my last phase as a public school parent for these next few months. Chirlane and I talk often, because we have pictures of Dante and Chiara when they were three and four and five all over the house, and we remember how busy our lives were when our children were young – and parents got a lot on their plate – many parents working two jobs or more.

Don’t hesitate, because the world’s a busy place, and lots of stresses and lots of pushes and pulls – apply right now. Pick up the phone right now and call 3-1-1. Get online right now. Apply now. Change the future of your child.

I’ve said many times, education determines economic destiny more today than at any time in human history. Education determines economic destiny. That’s why this matters so much. We want to have the American dream fulfilled – that the next generation will do better than the current generation. That can only happen if all of our children experience full-day pre-k and the strengths it will give them.

Quickly, in Spanish –

[Mayor de Blasio speaks in Spanish]

With that, first, we have esteemed elected officials, but I want to give a parent a chance first. I know these good progressive elected officials will appreciate that. And James Ruffin’s stepson Liam is in pre-k this year and maturing before his very eyes – let’s hear from James about his experience.


All right, before we do on-topic questions and then off-topic questions, just two points – I mentioned that we’re going to be crisscrossing the city and having all sorts of outreach activities. We’re going to be handing out these flyers that give you the basics on how to contact the city to apply for pre-k – in English, in Spanish, and we’re going to be, as Melissa pointed out, when you go online you’re going to find the information in nine key languages spoken in this city. So then you say, okay, so you want to apply – is it going to be a complicated, bureaucratic application? No, we don’t allow those things – so we reduced this down to two pages – page one, page two. That’s how simple it is for a parent – even the busiest parent – to apply for pre-k so their child can get full-day pre-k for free. Again, a value that could be in many cases the equivalent of $10,000 – something that you can get done in a matter of minutes and your child has a whole different future. So it’s as simple as that – all parents should act now.

With that, we’re going to do on topic first – on topic –

Question: [inaudible] pretty big number [inaudible] space crunch for pre-k. I’m wondering, [inaudible] and how you [inaudible]?

Mayor: I’m going to turn to Deputy Mayor Buery, but I just want to start by saying, remember – a lot of you may have been there at the press conference last year when we first announced the results of our outreach to see which organizations – to see which organizations wanted to be part of pre-k – we got an extraordinary response the first time out, and then more and more came in after that. So we always had a very big surplus in terms of potential space. And as Richard said in the past, we were choosy about the space that we ultimately selected, and we remain choosy. He’ll explain how the numbers add up now.

Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, Strategic Initiatives: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Yes, so as you know, quality, quality, quality. The goal is not just to open up seats, but to open up high quality seats, and that’s why we rejected about 45 percent of the applicants – for quality reasons. Of the new seats, they’re about half and half – slightly more are community-based programs, early education centers; slightly fewer are public school seats – but it’s very close to half and half – [inaudible] parallel. And so the community providers are the full array – they are charter schools, we have museum [inaudible], we have libraries – I’m sorry – participating, we have community-based organizations like in the past, religious schools – and I actually do think it’s part of the diversity of the city that allows us to have such a broad array of providers that we can meet all individual families’ needs. Similarly, on the public school side, we have seats all over the city and we worked with principals to identify where there was room in their buildings – and knowing that this is such a priority – knowing that as a principal – having children participate in prekindergarten will make all the difference for everything else that happens next – it’s been wonderful to see how principals have stepped up and worked with us to find space for prekindergarten. I always say the people who love prekindergarten the most are kindergarten teachers, because then they get to have these prekindergarten students come in who are now well prepared to participate in the classroom. So, like I said, it’s about 50/50 – slightly more early education centers than public schools. And like last year, we had every type of institution involved.

Mayor: Let me – let me just add to it – you know, we – we have had an opportunity this year we didn’t have last year. Last year, again, we came in – new administration, halfway through a school year – we had to acclimate to all the agencies and what they were capable of, and still managed to get to the 53,000 seats. This next process, although it’s another big jump – we’re going to be adding, you know, 25 to 30 percent more seats – the good news is, we have a much better handle on the capacity in our public school buildings, as Richard indicated. We’ve been able to find more capacity in public schools. We also are now – because we’re getting a much better beat on the interest levels, we’re able to project ahead in terms of what we’ll need a year, two, three years from now. So this is also going to allow us to put into our capital plan coming up in April the building of pre-k centers in some of the most overcrowded school districts – Central Queens is a great example of a place that’s perennially overcrowded. A pre-k center is going to relieve pressure on existing schools and allow us to keep building out the pre-k effort, but that takes a year or two of lead time to build out. So we’re really speeding up the whole process now, but we’ve gotten a great response all over the city. One more point, to the borough president’s point – I really appreciated this, because it has not been noted as much in the public discourse – a lot of the effort around pre-k around this country is focused on a smaller piece of the school constituency, meaning it focuses on kids who have the greatest needs educationally or academically, and often a small percentage even of them. We said from the beginning we wanted this to be universal. We wanted it to be universal for the good of all, because parents across the board deserve this. Every child needs this as part of their educational preparation. If we’re going to have a strong city and nation, early childhood education is absolutely fundamental – it should not be for some and not for others. But as the borough president said, it’s also about bringing all of the children’s abilities and talents into one classroom to help each other learn. So a lot of the programs in the past were for a narrower group of children. This is truly about universality. It brings children of all walks of life and all backgrounds together in the same classroom in many cases, and it lifts all boats.


Question: How were you able to make sure that you were adding seats to neighborhoods with the greatest need? Were you – did you learn anything from the first [inaudible]?

Mayor: I’m going to start and Rich may want to add or Josh Wallack from the DOE may want to add. We learned a lot, and we certainly know where some of the greatest interest and need is, and in some of those places, again, we do have overcrowding challenges that are going to mean we have to be very, very creative. So we learned a lot from last time as to where the need is greatest, and that helped us get a jumpstart on this time.

Deputy Mayor Buery: Thank you. I mean, not much to add – when we look at distribution of seats, it’s based on projections working with the Department of Education very closely. The Department of Education did a lot of the work to project where population is growing, and therefore we need prekindergarten seats. Obviously, we also have [inaudible] applications for last year. So, certainly, when we go and look out and try to make awards and work with the public schools, we are very much looking at where we think demand is. And – but, you know, our goal, again, is we have seats all over the city – we want to make sure that programs are accessible, programs are high quality. And we really do encourage families to do their research – There may be a program – there may not be a program that makes sense to you near home, but there might be one near where you work, or maybe where you have a grandmother, or maybe there’s something a few subway stops away. Using the pre-k finder tool at is really a way to find all sorts of information about programs – whether right across the street or a little bit further away – that will meet your four-year-old’s needs.

Question: So, Staten Island makes up about 5.6 percent of the population, but [inaudible] are about 9 percent of all applicants and almost [inaudible] Manhattan. I’m just wondering if you guys knew why there was so much interest on Staten Island [inaudible] and whether or not you guys have any – like, have the number of the new seats that are available on the island and whether or not there is increased interest on the island relative to –

Mayor: Well, a couple things – and, again, Richard, Josh, if you want to fill in some blanks – but first of all, we had a great experience in Staten Island with year one of pre-k. There was tremendous interest. Staten Island, I think, in some ways disproportionately benefited from the pre-k effort – and I give the parents of Staten Island credit for being vigilant and diligent in jumping on the opportunity immediately on the first day. But I think we feel very good about our projections for this coming year in terms of the space we’ll have available compared to the demand – we think we’re pretty well-aligned.

Question: [inaudible] Jimmy Oddo [inaudible] –

Mayor: It’s all Jimmy Oddo – Jimmy Oddo was calling – Jimmy Oddo is calling each parent personally – you can quote me – and reminding them that they need to put in their application. That – that is going above and beyond the call.

Question: [inaudible] as a board member here, thank you very much –

Mayor: Oh, I’m doing media questions.

Question: Oh, sorry – [inaudible] media.

Mayor: That’s okay. We’ll come back to you, but thank you. Thank you. Media questions, yes –

Question: So, maybe I missed it, but [inaudible] exact number of new seats [inaudible]?

Mayor: [inaudible]

Deputy Mayor Buery: Yeah – there are about 18,000 new seats in the system between public schools and early education centers – that have been added to the system.

Question: [inaudible] follow up – [inaudible]?

Mayor: [inaudible] part one – and – you guys can decide [inaudible]. Again, the history in the city government – pre-dating us – is that programs began even while the contract process was being completed. So, you’ll remember, some of the naysayers who last year said we couldn’t get 53,000, you know, that the programs wouldn’t be effective, etcetera, etcetera – we proved them wrong. The contracting process for many things that the city government does sometimes lags behind when you kick off, but we’ve made a lot of progress in that front. We’re going to, I think, have a faster situation this year. What matters in the end is the product. What matters is our ability to serve our kids – and that piece is going very, very well. Anyone want to add? Let’s hear from Josh Wallack.

Josh Wallack: Thanks. I would just say that I think we’ve been working with our providers to create a system that’s even easier for them to participate in pre-k for all. And part of that is making the contracting process better and faster – that gives us more complete information. So it will only get better from here, but we had a – we’re having a good experience so far this year, and we’re very confident that we’ll have a good finish to it.

Mayor: Okay – on topic – yes – 

Question: [inaudible] with the 18,000 new seats – have you identified space [inaudible] all the new seats that you’d like to offer in September? And also, did that take into account any space in public schools that you might have to set aside for charter schools based on the new law? And –

Mayor: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa – let’s do one at a time. On the first one, do we have all the space we’re looking for? No. We’re still looking. We have a lot of space, but we are continuing to look for space, especially in some of the districts that have had the biggest overcrowding problems in their schools to begin with. Your second question – in terms of – look, pre-k for all is a priority of this school system. I’d like to give people a little bit of a tutorial just for a quick moment. We have a system here called mayoral control of education. People become mayor through an election. In the election, there was a decision by 73 percent of the people to send me here on a platform that was lead, number one, by pre-k for all. So we will implement pre-k for all. That is the first priority. We’re always going to have to balance space considerations in every school, but we’re going to make sure that the pre-k program is fully accommodated in a host of different settings – as you’ve heard, traditional public school, charter, religious school, community-based organization, libraries, whatever it takes. In the meantime, as you know, we’ve been working with a number of charter schools to address their space needs – in most cases, very effectively. If there’s ever a dispute or a difference, there is a process for resolving that. What was your other piece?

Question: Finally, [inaudible] the number that we’re targeting for September was 73,000. In the press release, the only number I see is 70,000. [inaudible]?

Mayor: We are trying to judge as we go along, based on the experience last year and based on additional information this year, what that final number will be, but remember, the difference between last year and this is – last year, we knew – logistically and financially – we’d only get up to that 53,000 number. We did every scenario we could find and we could not find a way to get farther than that in year one. Year two is about universality. Universality will be determined by the parents. Based on everything we know, it hovers around 70. We think the high end is 73 – it might be 70, 69, 68. We will only know when parents make their own individual decision. So we’ve amended it simply to remind people that that number – give or take 70, we believe, but we will only know for sure when people vote with their feet by putting in their applications.

Okay. Last call. Last call, on topic – going one, going twice. We are in off topic – off topic – going once.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Well, we had a reception at Gracie Mansion for St. Patrick’s Day. It was incredibly – thank you, Gail – it was incredibly moving. We honored Pete Hamill, one of the great journalists in the history of this city – kudos to your paper – and he spoke very, very powerfully. I think everyone in the room was really moved by what he said about New York as a city for all and the role that the Irish community played in it. And, you know, for a variety of reasons, the program went a little long, and I left as soon as it was over and went down to St. Patrick’s. I had a great talk with the cardinal at the end of mass, and had the honor of meeting General Dempsey and a number of the mayors from Ireland. So the program went a little long. I think the moral of the story is we’re going to start the breakfast even earlier next year, because that’s a little bit of a tight time frame. We have to – we have to do better next year.

Off topic – please –

Question: Mr. Mayor, you were also late to the breakfast. The breakfast was supposed to start at 7:45 [inaudible] –

Mayor: The breakfast was – the program went right as we wished it to go. But again, I want to start the program schedule earlier in the future. [inaudible] topics – going once – going twice –okay, thanks, everyone.

Media Contact
(212) 788-2958