According to the de Blasio administration, many more low-income kids are being served: As Kaye indicated, almost two-thirds of the new seats are in neighborhoods below the city's median income of $50,000 for a family of four, according to an informational sheet the office distributed to reporters after the news broke. The document also challenges the premise that 41 percent and 30 percent of slots are in the richest neighborhoods and poorest neighborhoods, respectively, saying the data "is mixing apples and oranges" because it refers to "the entire preschool landscape" in the city for children ages two through five—not just the mayor's universal pre-k initiative. And the fact that the numbers are tilted toward middle-class and affluent families, according to the mayor's office, is based solely on the fact that these areas have more pre-k programs, including private ones, to begin with.
But the study finds that, though de Blasio's office insists that the new program is benefitting lower-income parts of the city, that claim fails to take into account the much higher numbers of 4-year-olds living in poor neighborhoods than in more affluent ones. Following up on the administration's response, Fuller said the percentages reveal that de Blasio is "evenly spreading new seats across the city, rich and poor ... and this fails to move the system toward equitable access."
"To [de Blasio's] credit, they did enroll about 10,000 children in neighborhoods below the median income of all families; it's just that when you adjust for where 4-year-olds live" the distribution of seats doesn't match the need, Fuller said, pointing to similar backlash his research got last November, when he published preliminary research on the program. "When we put out our first analysis, they said, 'Not true, we enrolled 10,000 kids from low-income families'—but a lot of them were pulled out of existing programs."
Fuller cited a preschool he and his team visited in East Harlem that said it had lost 54 kids to the new public pre-K centers: "These were kids of low-income parents in East Harlem who weren't paying anything for preschool. [De Blasio] has expanded [preschool among] lower-income families but hasn't invited new families into the system. He's just playing musical chairs and drawing low-income kids out of existing preschools."
Indeed, under pressure to meet de Blasio's enrollment target—which theoretically amounts to more than 73,000 children by next school year—the city aggressively and hastily recruited kids to the city program. As many as three-fifths of those 26,000 children left existing preschools that aren't participating in the public program, according to Fuller. About 40 percent of those 26,000 slots were created in public schools, while the rest were divvied up among some 500 private centers that were able to contract with the city. (Many of the centers that applied for the program, according to Fuller, were rejected; there are about 1,900 privately operated preschools in the city, meaning that nearly three-fourths of them have potentially lost business.)