President’s call for universal preschool for needy children resonates with state’s Abbott v. Burke school equity funding

By John Mooney

When President Obama in his State of the Union address called for universal quality preschool for children of need, his proposal wasn’t too far from what New Jersey has been trying for a decade.

The state’s Abbott v. Burke school equity rulings — despite continuing controversy — specify two years of preschool with certified teachers, small class sizes, and other quality standards in the state’s most impoverished cities.

This year, more than 45,200 three- and four-year olds were served by the state-funded program in 31 districts, including Newark, Paterson, and Camden — as well as four others receiving full funding under an expansion of the program launched in 2008.

Partial funding went to another 110 districts, covering an additional 7,400 four-year olds with at least half-day programs, the state said.

“Certainly our standards would make us eligible for what the president is proposing,” said Steve Barnett, director of the Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers University.


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