April 2017 has demonstrated New York’s enthusiasm for accessible education through the extension of New York City’s free preschool program and the introduction of a statewide scholarship program for middle-class undergraduate students.
In September 2015, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio implemented free pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-olds in the City. NYC’s universal pre-K program, also known as “Pre-K for All,” provides all NYC 4-year-olds, regardless of family income, with free pre-K schooling from September to June on a full-time or part-time basis, depending on a family’s preferences. Because “Pre-K for All” turned out to be so popular, Mayor de Blasio has announced that the program will be extended to also provide free pre-K to 3-year-olds.
Although free pre-K has been enacted in numerous cities and states across the nation, NYC’s program is one of the most expansive, currently serving about 65,000 4-year-olds. The extension of “Pre-K for All,” referred to as “3K for All,” is set to begin as soon as September 2017, and aims to enroll at least 11,000 3-year-olds in its first year.
The “3K for All” program will utilize smaller class sizes, 15 students per class compared to 18 for 4-year-olds, and increase supervision by having two adults for each class. To provide the desired level of programming, Mayor de Blasio anticipates that about 4,500 new teachers will be needed for the 3-year-old level. To bring in qualified teachers for the job, the City intends on making positions more appealing by increasing compensation, as well as the amount of support staff, for teachers. Additionally, as with the “Pre-K for All” program, Department of Education district schools and NYC Early Education Centers will serve as a unified entity to provide classroom space.
NYC is not the only part of the State that has made efforts to provide individuals with free education. New York lawmakers recently approved the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, which included provisions for an “Excelsior Scholarship” that aims at providing tuition-free college to middle-class families within the State. Governor Andrew Cuomo originally introduced the legislation in January 2017, and its passage marks New York State as the first to offer free tuition at four-year public colleges, as opposed to tuition-free community colleges.
To be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship, applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or refugee. Students who receive this scholarship must be enrolled as undergraduates at either a SUNY or CUNY school. Additionally, for the 2017 year, a student’s family income, based on the family’s most recently reported adjusted gross income, may not be more than $100,000 per year. This income cap will be adjusted over the next two years, rising to $110,000 in 2018, and $125,000 in 2019.
Aside from the straightforward eligibility requirements, there is a catch for Scholarship recipients: they must live and work in New York for the same number of years that they received funding. Therefore, if a student received the Scholarship for 3 years, he or she would have to live and work in New York for 3 years following the completion of his or her degree. The law does make an exception for students who attend graduate school outside of NY, or those who join the military; however, these students will eventually need to return to NY, as the exception is merely a deferral.
To maintain one’s scholarship, students will need to be enrolled full-time and take at least 30 credits per year. Additionally, they must sustain the required GPA that is necessary to stay in school and graduate on time. Exceptions, such as not enforcing full-time registration, will be made for students with disabilities.
In situations where a student loses his or her Scholarship, or he or she chooses to not live and work in NY following graduation, the amount of the Scholarship will be converted into a loan.
The ways in which NY seeks to develop and implement these expansive educational programs will be watched with significant interest to determine whether other cities and states could and should follow.