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Kindergarten Isn't a Luxury, It's a Necessity

In New York City, kindergarten isn't mandatory or guarenteed for all. Last year 3,000 eligible city children weren't enrolled in Kindergarten, 2,000 of whom were turned down or placed on a waitlist by the public schools their families applied to.

Five years ago, New York State's education gurus said we need to address this problem by lowering the required starting age for school to 5 years old, making kindergarten mandatory. But many politicians, including Mayor Bloomberg, balk at the idea of mandatory klindergarten, likening it to an unfunded mandate.

Access to early education isn't an unfunded mandate, it's an underfunded right. Kindergarten for all students shouldn't be treated as a novel, luxurious concept that is impossible during a recession. On the contrary, there's a more urgent need than ever to start educating kids at 4 and 5 years old -- and even earlier. Most parents who can afford it, start their children in private pre-school programs by age 3, giving these kids a head start over those from less affluent families. Indeed, according to recent research on educational inequities analyzed today by the New York Times, upper income parents spend nine times more on their children than low-income parents.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn rightly recognized the importance of educating 5-year-olds, calling for mandatory, funded kindergarten for all city students in her recent State of the City Address. This announcement by the Speaker was problematic to Mayor Bloomberg, who quickly questioned the cost of kindergarten for all, saying it would require another $30 million in education spending across the city.

Even with Kindergarten, American children are leaving school underprepared to be competitive later in life, not reaching their full potential. As Demos Fellow and WBAI Radio Host Rakim Brooks explained, in America "one-third of children come to kindergarten without the necessary linguistic skills to begin learning to read. Conservatives tie this trend to parental neglect, but could it be that the economy -- and thus we as a society -- is actually failing these children?"

We're surely failing those student who are denied access to education and it's past time got our fiscal priorities straight.