Gov. Phil Murphy announced today the expansion of the state’s existing network of pre-kindergarten programs, as well as his commitment to eventually reaching universal Pre-K for every child in New Jersey.
“Today we are announcing that New Jersey will start on a path to universal Pre-K for every three- and four-year-old in our state,” Murphy said. “And to ensure our success, we have directed … the New Jersey Department of Education to create a strategic plan to get us there.”
Speaking from a podium in a Palisades Park early childhood center, Murphy further announced that the state would award 19 school districts with $17 million in new funding for Pre-K programs, amounting to 1,138 new slots.
“Quite plainly, education in general and Pre-K in particular is one of our best opportunities to close the achievement gap for students who come from low-income and disadvantaged communities,” Murphy said. “Investing in early childhood education just makes sense.”
The governor was joined by Palisades Park Mayor Chris Chung – whose school district is among those being awarded additional Pre-K funding – State Senate President Pro Tempore Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood), Acting Commissioner of Education Angelica Allen-McMillan, and several other school officials and advocates.
Ruiz, whom Murphy described as an ally in the legislature on school funding, noted how establishing a strong preschool system has reverberating impacts on mothers and families as well.
“Today’s announcement helps us move one step closer to providing all of our state’s children with the foundation they need to be successful,” said Ruiz, the chair of the Senate Education Committee. “Universal preschool has been a cornerstone of my priorities legislatively since I took office and now more than ever we have seen the importance of this infrastructure and the role it plays in ensuring working families have the support they need.”
As most of the speakers as the event referenced, New Jersey has been seen as a national leader in Pre-K since the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Abbott v. Burke decision, which ordered disadvantaged school districts to offer free preschool.
According to the think tank New America, New Jersey would be the third state to institute universal Pre-K, following Vermont and Florida; neighboring New York City has also implemented universal preschool under Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“We know that every child has incredible potential, but not every child has the same opportunities and resources to fulfill that potential,” said New Jersey Education Association President Sean Spiller in a statement. “This investment in our youngest students is another important step in our shared work to build a more just and equitable future.”
“I’m extremely proud of the work our administration has done to expand access to high-quality Pre-K,” Murphy concluded. “Investing in Pre-K is how we intend to keep New Jersey a national leader in every field.”