State lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are considering money that would bring pre-kindergarten programs to all school districts in New York. It’s welcome news for advocates, who say the move can help bridge a gap, especially for struggling families. 

“Pre-k is an important first step,” said Dia Bryant, the executive director of the Education Trust – New York. “It’s critical particularly for families who are in low-income households where they have to go to work and they need a space for their children to be in that’s edifying and supportive.”

But the measure would go beyond simply providing day care services for children younger than five. A full pre-k program could help prepare developing minds, especially in communities of color. 

“The learning needs for our students — we need to think about how we are going to address culturally relevant and sustaining education so that we are affirming children’s identities when they are entering school,” Bryant said. 

Most school districts in New York have a pre-k program in place, but many have not had the funding set aside. Lawmakers plan to increase taxes on upper income earners in the state generate billions of dollars in revenue 

Bob Lowry of the New York State Council of Superintendents said it’s important a universal pre-k program be fully funded and that it be recurring. 

“I think that’s also been one of the reasons why districts have been reluctant to jump on board with pre-k, the adequacy of funding and the assurance there would be funding in the future. And it helps if the funding increases as district costs increase,” Lowry said.

And while pre-k can help children and families, education advocates say there is more work to be done to level the playing field for low-income communities and people of color. 

“This is a birth-to-five continuum,” Bryant said. “It is not just putting pre-k in place. It’s part of the puzzle.”