5 Insider Tips for NYC Pre-K Parents

Having worked on the Pre-K For All initiative at the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) since its inception in 2014 and with the announcement of 3-K for All, I thought I would give some insider tips on what I think is important in picking the right program for your pre-K child.

If you haven’t registered your child yet, May 9th is the last day to register for Round 2.


1. Use the City Databases

Many parents aren’t aware of the tools at their disposal, so here are two of the big ones:

Pre-K Finder

Yes, the NYCDOE still prints out paper copies of all the sites in the Pre-K For All initiative, but this list changes so much that these are frequently out of date. It’s always better to look at the online version to get the latest information. Every Pre-K For All site is listed in the finder and will give you a list of non-public school pre-K sites (called NYCEECs — short for New York City Early Education Centers) and public schools that participate in Pre-K For All that is closest to you.

Department of Health (DOH) Childcare Database

For all NYCEECs, make sure to search the health database and find your pre-K site. In this database, you should be able to find things like teacher turnover, any current or previous health violations. From my experience, I found that there are usually innocuous violations like missing paperwork, but you might find violations that are much more serious.

2. Look at ECERS-R and CLASS scores

While scores are only one aspect of the quality of a pre-K program, I do believe they provide some insight on quality. Pre-K Quality Snapshots (found in the Pre-K Finder!) were created last year to help parents learn more about the quality of preschools in NYC. They are good place to start, but there is actually more valuable data available. Pre-K Quality Snapshots compare scores to district averages, but who knows if your district average is even good or not. If I wanted to choose a good pre-K program, I would focus-in on ECERS-R and CLASS scores that the NYCDOE provided publically last year. The NYCDOE uses these scores to determine the quality pre-K programs. If the pre-K doesn’t have one of these scores or is not on the list, it’s because it’s a new site to the NYCDOE and it has not been scored. Research shows that the scores below have been linked to better educational outcomes:

  1. CLASS Emotional Support: Anything 5.0 or Above
  2. CLASS Instructional Support: Anything 3.3 or Above
  3. ECERS-R Score: Anything 3.4 or Above
Focus on the scores in the RED boxes!

3. Know that NYCEECs are usually better quality than pre-K in public schools.

If you look at the data, you’ll find the ECERS and CLASS scores show that NYCEEC sites are usually better than pre-K classrooms in public schools. There are two big reasons why this happens:

The Building Itself

The buildings and spaces in NYCEECs have been developed specifically to be pre-K classrooms. They are usually built from the ground up. Pre-K classrooms in public schools might be great programs, but for the most part, they took random classrooms in an elementary school and outfitted it to be pre-K. As a result, there are sometimes issues like not having a sink in the room or having a bathroom that is too far away that skew scores in ECERS and CLASS lower.

Department of Health (DOH) Regulations

Every pre-K program is regulated either by Article 43 or Article 47 of the NYC health code. Article 47 of the NYC health code requires health safety plans, structural requirements, observational visits — many things that Article 43 programs are not required have. All pre-K classrooms in public schools, parochial schools, and charter schools are Article 43s — which mean that there are less health regulations for these schools. All NYCEECs are regulated under Article 47.

4. Know that some students get special priority

74% of families get their child in their top choice pre-K; however, there are priorities for some type of students in this order:

  1. Students already enrolled at the site at 3 years old.
  2. Siblings of current students.
  3. Families who receive free or subsidizes social services services at the organization operating a pre-K.
  4. Students whose home language is not English and is one of the pre-Ks who are designated in that language.
  5. All other students.

What does this mean? If you plan a year ahead and get your child in a program that you want a year early, you will have an advantage of getting preference into that free pre-K program in the next year. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s a strong priority. You will also get priority if you already utilize the services that an organization provides prior to signing-up. Just make sure to let your pre-K know that you have any of these preferences, because each pre-K needs to mark these preferences manually on your application.

5. See how much money your pre-K site of choice gets.

Not all Pre-K For All classrooms are funded equally. State funding provides approximately $10,000 per child for 6 hours and 20 minutes of full-day pre-K. However, the NYCDOE takes that money and divides it up amongst the pre-K programs differently based on what pre-K programs ask for during contract negotiations. Programs could be funded for as little as $8,500 per child per year or as much as $12,500 per child per year (and sometimes even more depending on the site). That means that some pre-K programs get sometimes 45%-50% more than others. While most pre-K sites have a similar cost per child, if you are trying to find your first choice, this would be a differentiating factor.

Finding this information is very difficult because the NYCDOE puts it in PDF form and hides numbers within contract documents. The easiest way to get that information is probably to contact the pre-K program and directly ask what their “cost per child” is for Pre-K For All seats. But if you need to do some sleuthing, you are going to have to rummage around the Panel for Educational (PEP) policy contract documents and find something like this…

“Negotiated Cost Per Child…” is what sites get each year for every child

This information can help you narrow down your search — and easiest way to find all this information is to call your pre-K site directly, but you need to visit your pre-K program of choice to find out if it’s the perfect fit for you and your child. Choosing the right school for your child can be an overwhelming process but know that even if you don’t get your first choice, there are thousands of great options out there available for your child.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve been fighting to make sure that every New Yorker gets a high-quality education as a teacher, public servant, and community member. I’m continuing the fight for better education for children of all ages by running for New York City Council.

For more information on what I would like to do in New York City and learn more about my campaign for New York City Council in East Harlem and the South Bronx, visit my website at: www.VoteSantosNY.com

Edward Santos is an educator, community activist, and running for New York City Council in District 8. His views are his own.