Newark, NJ, December 3, 2009

The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) has revised the method for calculating the number of three- and four-year-old children eligible to attend the nationally acclaimed Abbott preschool program.

The action, taken without notice or the opportunity for public input, lopped 6,891 children off the preschool eligibility rolls in the 31 high needs “Abbott” districts. In Newark alone, 1,632 children were dropped from the preschool count, or 19% of the children previously included in the district’s “universe” of eligible preschool-age children. To view change in preschool count by district, click here .

In changing the method to count the number of three- and four-year-olds residing in New Jersey’s cities, the NJDOE directed districts to use only the number of first-graders enrolled in the district’s public schools and to no longer count children who attend first grade in parochial and private schools. As a result, the count of children eligible for preschool automatically dropped from 51,732 to 44,841 children, for an overall reduction of 6,891, or 13% from 2008 to 2009.

Under law, Abbott districts must make every effort to enroll 90% of the eligible universe of preschoolers in their communities, including stepped up outreach and recruitment. By dropping private school children from the preschool count, numerous districts that had for years been below the 90% goal suddenly found themselves in compliance.

In a strongly worded letter to Education Commissioner Lucille Davy, ELC Senior Attorney Elizabeth Athos asked for immediate restoration of a full count of eligible youngsters, including children in private schools.

“The law mandates all three- and four-year-children are eligible for Abbott preschool, regardless of whether they subsequently enroll in private or public schools in kindergarten or first grade,” Ms. Athos said. “There is no educational or legal basis for the Department’s action, and it must be corrected – now.”

Research and data have shown that the Abbott preschool program is successful in closing early learning and developmental gaps in children in low income neighborhoods. The program is considered the best state preschool program in the United States, and a model for other states to follow. Attendance in Abbott preschool is not compulsory, but children must be enrolled if their parents or families elect to have them attend.


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Sharon Krengel
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