childhood education

Murphy Promises Expansion to Universal Pre-K in New Jersey

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat running for reelection this year, has already increased state funding for pre-K since he took office in 2018 by 35%

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What to Know

  • New Jersey will institute universal pre-K to all families across the state over the next several years, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday.
  • Thursday's round of funding establishes or expands high-quality pre-K programs in 19 additional school districts across the state.
  • The Department of Education will develop a Strategic Plan that will sets a roadmap for further pre-K expansion throughout the state. 

New Jersey will institute universal pre-K to all families across the state over the next several years, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Thursday.

Murphy, a Democrat running for reelection this year, has increased state funding for pre-K since he took office in 2018 by 35%, but the pledge Thursday will expand the availability of early childhood education.

Thursday's round of funding establishes or expands high-quality pre-K programs in 19 additional school districts across the state. The Department of Education will develop a Strategic Plan that will sets a roadmap for further pre-K expansion throughout the state. 

“Investing in early childhood education lays the foundation for a bright future for our early learners,” Murphy said. “Our Administration is committed to ensuring that every New Jersey child receives a high-quality education starting with pre-K. While we still have a long way to go to achieve pre-K for all, today’s expansion further demonstrates our commitment to reaching as many students as possible.”

It’s unclear how long the expansion will take and how much it would cost. Murphy didn’t specify a timeline, but he tasked the state Department of Education with making a plan to meet the goal.

Florida, Vermont and the District of Columbia have “truly universal pre-K programs,” meaning they’re not capped based on income or enrollment levels, according to the nonpartisan Education Commission of the States. New Jersey would join that list under Murphy’s proposal.

Investing in early childhood education lays the foundation for a bright future for our early learners.

Phil Murphy, New Jersey Governor

Meanwhile, Acting Commissioner of Education Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan said this move will prove beneficial as time passes.

“Research has shown that children’s trajectory for academic success starts early, and continues throughout their life,” Allen-McMillan said in a statement. “Investing in preschool education pays dividends for our students and future of the State of New Jersey.”

The Governor’s Universal Pre-K Strategic Plan will focus:

  • Prioritizing districts and setting a timeline for expansion; 
  • Ensuring students have appropriate facilities and quality programming;
  • Involving childcare providers and Head Start in planning to avoid displacing existing high-quality early learning centers;
  • Optimizing funding streams, including federal funds from the federal Build Back Better Plan; and
  • Utilizing best practices from other states that offer expanded/universal pre-k programs.

Additionally, Murphy announced 19 school districts have been awarded $17 million in pre-K expansion funding for the 2021-2022 school year.

During the Murphy Administration, 140 school districts have received funding for either a new high-quality preschool program or to expand an existing preschool to a high-quality program. The expansion has opened preschool seats for over 9,000 children throughout New Jersey.  

Districts that received new state funding to expand or create a high-quality preschool program in the 2021-2022 school year include:  

CountyDistrictAmount
AtlanticMullica Township$512,823
BergenPalisades Park$823,860
CamdenAudubon Boro (Audubon Park)$440,319
CamdenBerlin Township$336,713
Cape MayCape May City$376,033
CumberlandCommercial Township$563,112
CumberlandDeerfield Township$415,831
GloucesterMonroe Township$1,399,892
GloucesterWashington Township$1,113,420
GloucesterWestville$655,573
HudsonEast Newark$337,039
OceanJackson Township$3,173,040
OceanOcean Gate$264,462
OceanStafford Township$3,245,355
PassaicBloomingdale$540,600
SalemPenns Grove-Carney’s Point Regional$1,138,728
SalemWoodstown-Pilesgrove Regional$1,067,165
SalemUpper Pittsgrove Township$672,760
SussexHamburg$579,984

New Jersey already funds some pre-K, stemming from a nearly 2-decade-old court case that led to pre-K program funding in cities and towns with high poverty rates.

Thursday’s announcement won praise from lawmakers, as well as from the state’s biggest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association.

The announcement comes just as mail-in ballots are about to go out to voters who opted to get them in the Nov. 2 election. Murphy faces Republican challenger former Assembly member Jack Ciattarelli. Ciattarelli has called for expanding pre-K through private daycare providers.

He’s also written in an op-ed that the state cannot afford fully funded universal pre-K, saying instead it should be means-tested.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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