By Erin Delmore
New Jersey is getting an influx of cash from the federal government, geared toward expanding access to pre-kindergarten.
“That age between 3 and 5 years old you can target and see if there are any delays or any push that the child may need, you can get it while they’re in preschool and have them ready for kindergarten. Kindergarten now is a whole new ballgame compared to what it was even 10 years ago. The children are expected to know so much, and to be not just emotionally, socially but also educationally ready and being in preschool absolutely prepares them for that,” said parent Karla Medina.
Eighteen million dollars to New Jersey, the third installment of a four-part cash bundle. This year’s grant will allow 17 school districts to continue their work and start up new pre-K programs, sending 2,000 4-year-olds through their doors, 6,000 total since the start of the Preschool Development Grant Program, aimed at lifting up children from low- to moderate-income families.
“When you look at the 17 districts that are receiving this federal money, many of them in South Jersey. Because of our Supreme Court order and Abbott v. Burke, preschool is funded in many of the urban districts across the state, but there are also low-income districts in South Jersey and I think those are the ones that are benefiting from this federal program,” said Advocates for Children of New Jersey President and CEO Cecilia Zalkind.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz sponsored legislation to dedicate $100 million to expanding early childhood education.
“I think what it indicates in a great capacity is the federal government recognizing that the state of New Jersey has a phenomeonal early childhood program, one that I’ve been working very aggressively to promote expansion so that at some point New Jersey can have universal preschool,” she said.
“Obviously we’re thrilled to get the $17.5 million because it gives us the ability to continue the progress that we’ve made with pre-K. But look, we’re not going to stop. We need to fund it properly so that every child in the state gets to where they have that opportunity to get that early education because it’s a game changer,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Ruiz and Sweeney have toured the state looking at high-quality pre-K programs with certified teachers, small classes and health and social services support, like the Ironbound Early Learning Center in Newark. It’s run through a combination of state and federal funding.
“Our children leave ready for kindergarten. Our children mostly come from at-risk families, they have very few opportunities to offer their children. First hand experiences, we have field trips. We take them to museums, we take them to the theater. Not only that, the everyday they have a lot of different educational opportunity here in the classroom,” said Ironbound Early Learning Center Director Grace Blanco.
Eighteen states were granted money by the federal government. And in that the announcement, New Jersey was given props for meeting its goal with the funds used to send kids to pre-K so far.