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For NJ Early Education Advocates, State of the Union Carries Hopeful Message

President's call for universal preschool for needy children resonates with state's Abbott v. Burke school equity funding.

When President Obama in his State of the Union address called for universal quality preschool for children of need, his proposal wasn’t too far from what New Jersey has been trying for a decade.

The state’s Abbott v. Burke school equity rulings -- despite continuing controversy -- specify two years of preschool with certified teachers, small class sizes, and other quality standards in the state’s most impoverished cities.

This year, more than 45,200 three- and four-year olds were served by the state-funded program in 31 districts, including Newark, Paterson, and Camden -- as well as four others receiving full funding under an expansion of the program launched in 2008.

Partial funding went to another 110 districts, covering an additional 7,400 four-year olds with at least half-day programs, the state said.

“Certainly our standards would make us eligible for what the president is proposing,” said Steve Barnett, director of the http://nieer.org/National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University.

And if federal money is forthcoming, Barnett said it would be especially fitting for New Jersey, given that its efforts to expand beyond the Abbott districts have slowed, if not stopped, since 2009 due to budget constraints.

“It’s not entirely clear what they are proposing yet, but New Jersey would fit the bill, especially since we have basically stalled since the recession,” Barnett said.

Obama’s call clearly emboldened early education advocates in New Jersey and nationwide, with his pledge for federal assistance of as much as $10 billion a year toward not only preschool but also full-day kindergarten.

The state currently only requires half-day kindergarten; fewer than 360 of 511 districts provide full-day kindergarten. The rest are either half-day programs or a combination of half- and full-day classes, some due to budget constraints, others due to space and scheduling limitations.

State Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Bergen) is primary sponsor of a pending bill to require full-day kindergarten statewide, and she said yesterday that Obama’s call couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We have to have universal access for all students to full-time kindergarten, regardless of ZIP code,” Wagner said. “I know saying it and putting in place for next year is unrealistic, but we have to develop a plan.”

Continue reading on NJSpotlight.com.

NJ Spotlight is an issue-driven news website that provides critical insight to New Jersey’s communities and businesses. It is non-partisan, independent, policy-centered and community-minded.

Tugwalla February 18, 2013 at 12:42 PM
Yes...New Jersey has been wasting millions of dollars for the past 10 years with nothing to show but failing test scores, increasing drop out rates and rampant illiteracy. Obama just wanted to pander to all those on the dole of failing social engineering programs. Obama should have spoken the truth.... the parents of those so called children in need have to step up and take personal responsibility for their kids, instead of relying on the government and hardworking responsible tax payers to raise their kids for them!
gjc February 18, 2013 at 06:16 PM
People like you are the same folks who whine when young adults can't get jobs because of poor education. The time to get kids interested and in a learning mode is the earliest age possible, probably at age 3. My granddaughter was born in November. Because of dumb laws here in NJ, she can't be enrolled for school until she is 2 months shy of age 6 and then only for half-day kindergatern. That's a total waste and a huge amount of time lost if she or others like her have any kind of learning problem. Because her parents are of modest means and unable to afford private pre-school, I do my best to provide pre-school training but I am not a trained teacher. Pay now or pay later.
Tugwalla February 18, 2013 at 07:01 PM
GJC...I don't whine about dumb kids with worthless degrees not getting jobs...I can care less about them. As a taxpayer it is not my responsibility to get somebody's kid "interested and in a learning"...as for your own kids...Isnt it time they stepped up to be better parents? It looks like YOU failed as a parent! Tell them to get another part-time job or even training to get a better job rather than depending on other people - the public schools or grandma and grandpa to raise their kids? Face the facts you and your children are irresponsible parents looking for free handouts. I agree...start paying for your own irresponsible behavior NOW!
gjc February 18, 2013 at 09:34 PM
Well Tug, I guess you're just one of those folks who love to whine about, "It's not my job." And what makes you think for one second that my granddaughter's parents haven't taken on extra jobs to provide for their child (HINT: they have). The problem is that so many employers are unwilling (NOTE: I didn't say unable) to provide living wages. So Mr. Abused Taxpayer, go off to a corner and suck your thumb and stamp your feet: "I'm not going to pay, I'm not going to pay." When it is your turn (or that of a beloved family member) to need and want help, watch the behinds of all those who could help but won't. Those helpful people are the ones who are turning their backs on you. Everyone has a day when they need help so don't think it won't happen to you.
cynicinmarlboro February 19, 2013 at 07:28 PM
Funny how the Abbotts jump on this. Isn't this meant for everyone, not just the so-called underprivileged districts who have been wasting taxpayer funds for years?

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