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The Benefits of Independent Preschools vs. UPK in New York

The Benefits of Independent Preschools vs. UPK in New York

The state of New York has been experimenting with the idea of Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) in recent years. While this policy sounds great on its surface, the manner in which NYS is rolling this program out is rife with issues and inconsistencies. As it currently stands, independent preschools have more consistent standards and offer higher quality education than the patchwork of partially funded UPK programs across NYS.

The current problem with NYS Universal Pre-K Program

1. NYS has seriously underfunded UPK:

As of writing this blog post, NYS gives local school districts just $5,202 per student in funding for the entire school year. This compares with the NYS average cost per pupil in these same school districts of $26,571. As a result, what is being offered in these programs is far below the standard of already established independent preschools.

2. Universal Pre-K is anything but Universal:

Naturally, an underfunded program has led districts to find ways to outsource their UPK programs to community based organizations (CBOs) who will supply services for the allocated amount of $5,202 offered by the state. This often results in UPK seats being awarded to the lowest bidding CBO in a particular district. This means a school district’s UPK program is actually being run by local daycare centers who are either using UPK to fill open slots in their programs, or in some cases developing UPK specific programs that are of lower quality than their standard offerings to families who pay full tuition for their student. The approaches to UPK vary widely by district and should not be considered universal in any way.

The benefits of independent preschool vs. UPK

1. Track Record and History:

Independent preschools have been serving families in their local areas for many years. Parents can look to a school’s longevity and track record in their communities. UPK programs don’t have that longevity or consistency yet. In just a few short years, many districts have already experienced moving their UPK programs between different CBOs and must bid their programs out annually.

2. Proper Funding:

Independent preschools set their tuition based on what they need to fund high-quality programming and education for their students. While this is more costly to a family than a free state funded program, it ensures proper resources are available for all students.

3. Control over curriculum, program, and offerings:

Independent preschools can exceed minimum and state mandated offerings for both program and curriculum. This includes length of the school day offered, academic enrichment, educational field trips, nutritious hot lunch, and even bus transportation to and from school.

What parents should do when choosing between Pre-Kindergarten options

Like any major decision, parents need to do their research! Hopefully this blog has given you a framework for understanding some of the details between independent preschools and state-funded programs. Since every district is so different, the onus still falls on parents to do some specific research on the options in their local area. In short, a UPK program should be evaluated side-by-side with high-quality preschool offerings so parents can make an informed decision. The preschool experience is an investment a parent is making in their child’s future and should be about much more than the promise of free childcare.