This article will examine New York City and State’s current universal pre-kindergarten efforts as related to social goals of serving low-income children in segregated schools to address inequality and close opportunity gaps. It also will examine the educational goals of enhancing cognitive gains and improving school readiness for all children. Part I considers pre-kindergarten in a climate of extreme segregation by race and class and in the context of current technocratic education reforms operating against a backdrop of diminished legal remedies for the harms of race and class segregation and inequality. Part II examines pre-kindergarten, with a focus on New York’s role as one of the earliest states to introduce pre-kindergarten, first as targeted to the state’s neediest children as anti-poverty and social equalization strategy and more recently as a universal program focused on educational policy. It will discuss more recent efforts to introduce and implement universal pre-kindergarten primarily from an educational perspective rather than as an anti-poverty strategy. Part III will note persistent structural and fiscal barriers to full implementation of either targeted or universal pre-kindergarten that mirror barriers to high quality preschool and public education access more broadly. Part IV considers statutory and constitutionally-based approaches to achieving equitable access to pre-kindergarten, noting the difficulties in establishing and sustaining access for low-income urban Black and Latino children, regardless of the approach. The article raises the question whether some form of targeted pre-kindergarten might better ensure that New York City’s neediest children gain access to quality programs.


Symposium: American Education: Diversity, Desegregation and Resegregation

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