Newark, NJ, September 29, 2009
ELC has called on NJ Education Commissioner Lucille Davy to take immediate action to respond to a report that over 100 three- and four-year old children in Jersey City are waiting to be enrolled in the district’s Abbott preschool program.
The report in the September 24th Jersey Journal indicates that the Jersey City school district is “out of room” for its preschool program, with hundreds of children stranded on a list waiting to be enrolled. The report, noting that the district is scrambling to place over 200 students this week, cites statements by a district official that the district doesn’t have the space for the remaining 113 three- and four-year olds whose parents and families want them placed in the high quality Abbott preschool program.
In a September 25th letter to Commissioner Davy, ELC Senior Attorney Elizabeth Athos notes that waiting lists for preschool are contrary to the legal entitlement for urban children established in the landmark Abbott v. Burke rulings and in current NJ Department of Education regulations. Ms. Athos calls on Commissioner Davy to launch “an immediate investigation” to verify the existence of the waiting list and to develop, in collaboration with the district, a plan for prompt placement, including the provision of funding and temporary facilities if necessary.
“Reports of a pre-k wait list in Jersey City are deeply disturbing,” Ms. Athos said. “Jersey City children are legally entitled to attend the Abbott preschool program, and the State is obligated to provide the district with the resources to ensure access for any child that wishes to enroll. Every day that passes is another day these children lose out,” she added.
ELC is also calling on Commissioner Davy to investigate all Abbott districts to determine if waiting lists exist in other communities, and to take action to eliminate any backlog.
The Abbott preschool program, established following several groundbreaking Abbott decisions by the NJ Supreme Court, is recognized as the nation’s strongest pre-k program in terms of quality and outcomes. Over 40,000 children in the 31 Abbott districts are enrolled in the program. The new school funding law, the School Funding Reform Act, expands the program to another 84 low income communities beginning September 2009, but the NJ Legislature failed to fund the mandated expansion, depriving over 6100 children the opportunity to attend the program.
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