As a result of changes made by the state Department of Education (DOE), 1,092 Jersey City children are among 6,891 statewide that are no longer eligible for the Abbott preschool program, according to the Education Law Center, a Newark-based nonprofit that works on urban education issues.
The 19 percent drop in eligible students in Jersey City comes because the DOE changed the method for calculating the number of three- and four-year-old children eligible to attend the program. Specifically, the DOE dropped private and parochial school students from the count, an action the Law Center says was taken without notice or public input.
“The law mandates all three- and four-year-children are eligible for Abbott preschool, regardless of whether they subsequently enroll in private or public schools in kindergarten or first grade,” says the center’s senior attorney Elizabeth Athos. “There is no educational or legal basis for the department’s action, and it must be corrected — now.”
Athos sent a letter to state education commissioner Lucille Davy last week, urging the DOE to rethink this change and outlining prior legal judgments that Athos says backs up the center’s position.
“As you are aware, New Jersey's poor urban districts have significant numbers of parochial and other private schools that serve low income families,” the letter reads. “Whether or not the students in those schools remain in private school or return to public school, as many do, it is imperative that they be given the same constitutional opportunity as students who remain in public school to benefit from the preparation that public preschool is intended to provide.”
The Abbott preschool program was created by order of the state Supreme Court, in order to close the learning gap that disadvantaged children in New Jersey’s urban areas often face as early as kindergarten. The Supreme Court has said that “well-planned, high quality” preschool “will have a significant and substantial positive impact on academic achievement in both early and later school years.”