A tuition-free, full day pre-kindergarten program at Hewlett-Woodmere’s Franklin Early Childhood Center has received an additional $540,000 in grants from the state and was approved by the school district’s Board of Education to begin on Nov. 1.
The district’s pre-school now has the option to provide free, full-day schooling to the community at a significantly reduced cost to the taxpayer after receiving the additional Universal Pre-Kindergarten state grant and a new four-year allocation under the American Rescue Plan, which is pandemic-related federal government funding to offset the program’s cost for four years at $383,628 per year.
The program was approved by a five-to-two board vote at the Sept. 22 meeting. Existing funding of $332,286 from the state must be used before the district can access the money.
Existing funding covers 102 half-day program slots and 51 full-day slots, of which 40 half-day slots and 31 full-day slots have been filled. These half-day seats under existing funding may remain, be converted to full-day seats, or become a hybrid program, while new funding must be used for full day seats only.
“A free full-day pre-kindergarten program is a wonderful opportunity for families in the district,” Superintendent Ralph Marino Jr. stated in a news release on the new program. “The extended school day will better prepare students for kindergarten and beyond. We are thrilled to be able to offer this program at no additional cost to our community.”
The district can now offer a free, full-day pre-kindergarten program for up to 161 students. The new money covers 100 full day-seats at $5,400 per student. Both old and new funding must be shared with community-based organizations such as Our Kids Place and Lev Chana, the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach’s early childhood center in Hewlett Bay Park. CBOs are given $54,000, enough for 10 students. This leaves 90 full-day seats for Hewlett-Woodmere pre-school students.
Effective through Oct. 15, current students are provided with the option to rollover into the new program or remain at half-day, as part of the PLUS program, which is tuition based and full-day, students will receive a prorated refund. New students had to be registered by Oct. 7.
Current enrollment into the FECC pre-K program, a full week half-day program financially supported by the state and school district, has declined while tuition for the PLUS program is becoming more costly, with tuition projected to increase up to $6,870 in the 2024-2025 school year.
“The program is free, thereby allowing them to register their children without having to worry about tuition,” said Barbara Giese, a district spokeswoman. “Their children who participate in the program will be better prepared for kindergarten, will develop increased motor and socialization skills, and have a greater sense of independence, among others.” The district will also reap the benefits of full day pre-K, including increased district enrollment, officials said.
Some parents attended the Sept. 22 meeting to express their concerns about the sustainability of the new program’s funding. Once you implement something, it is very hard to take away,” said one district mother, who declined to be identified. The board said it will review the program in four years and reassess.
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