Education Law Center, along with a dozen other organizations, testified yesterday before the New Jersey Senate Education Committee about the proven benefits of early education delivered to over 45,000 three- and four-year-olds through the nationally acclaimed Abbott preschool program.
But lawmakers were also told that it’s time to move forward on expanding the program to another 50,000 youngsters statewide, as mandated in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 (SFRA), the state’s landmark weighted student funding formula.
ELC’s testimony was presented by Executive Director David Sciarra, the lead lawyer in securing the nation’s first judicial decree for early education in the 1998 Abbott v. Burke V ruling. Mr. Sciarra urged lawmakers to take three specific steps to ensure universal preschool access to all of New Jersey’s at-risk children:
- develop and implement a plan to provide full-day kindergarten in the 15% of districts that still offer only half-day programs;
- restart the five-year phase-in of Abbott preschool under the SFRA law to 90 additional high need districts and all low-income children elsewhere across the state; and
- press the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) to redouble efforts to enroll 90% of all three- and four-year-olds in the 31 urban districts providing Abbott preschool under court order.
“By taking these steps, New Jersey can become the first state where every child in a high poverty community, and every other at-risk child across the state, has access to the high quality early education they must have to succeed in school and in life,” Mr. Sciarra said.”
ELC’s recommendations are supported by strong research evidence from 15 years of implementation of the Abbott preschool program. These research results were presented by National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) Executive Director Steven Barnett – which leads the longitudinal study of the Abbott program – and Cecilia Zalkind, Executive Director of the Association of Children of New Jersey.
Pre-K Our Way, a not-for-profit organization launched earlier this year that brings together a diverse group of business leaders, parents, foundations, early childhood educators, community leaders, interested citizens and elected officials in support of effective preschool education, was represented at the hearing by philanthropist Brian Maher; Ruth Lopez Piatt, the owner of Little Lamb Preschool in Vineland, which is part of that district’s mixed delivery system of district and private provider preschool classrooms; and Linda Anderson Towns, recently retired Woodbine superintendent. All three talked about the need to expand New Jersey’s high quality preschool program to at-risk children all over the state.
In thanking the Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) for her leadership on early education, Mr. Sciarra noted that New Jersey can “take pride in Abbott preschool. But there is much more work to do.”
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