NYC Guarantees Free 3-K for All in 2023, Will Pour $236M Into Strengthening Special Ed

Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcements as he revealed his preliminary budget plan for fiscal year 2022 on Monday

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Every single 3-year-old child will have a free preschool seat in New York City schools come September 2023, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday as he revealed his nearly $100 billion "recovery budget" for the next fiscal year.

The program, which is part of the city's upcoming budget plan, takes last month's development -- that free 3-K would expand to all 32 public school districts in the five boroughs by this September -- to a new level. It means every kid of age will be guaranteed a free preschool seat somewhere in the city in less than three years.

"Every single 3-year-old will have a seat for free in all of New York City by September 2023, so for the children born in 2020, that very, very tough year we went through together, when they are 3 years old in 2023, every single one of them will be guaranteed free, safe, high-quality early childhood education," the mayor said.

De Blasio also said early childhood education for special education students will expand in the coming years. They will be included from this point on as the city builds out its 3-K and pre-K programs, the mayor said Monday. About $22 million in the next budget will go toward expanding early childhood special education.

De Blasio allocated $236 million in that budget to strengthen special education services, which will help kids make up services they missed because of the absence of in-person learning during the pandemic. It will also include counseling, speech and physical therapy. Another $22 million will go toward expanding

The city plans to spend $12 million in the 2022 fiscal budget to bring social-emotional learning to middle and high schools. The number of community schools will go from 266 to 406 with a $10 million investment in the same budget. Sports programming will also expand across the city, with a focus on most in-need high schools, with a $6 million allocation in the 2022 fiscal budget, the mayor said.

Meanwhile, the plan to bring 3-K to all public school districts in September is still on. De Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter previously said they would use education money from the COVID-19 stimulus fund to make it happen. Ultimately, it will allow for about 16,500 more kids across all 32 NYC districts to start school this fall -- an interim bridge for education until the universal 3-K program rolls out.

So far, free 3-K has only been available in 16 New York City school districts. The immediate plan for this September doubles that, and in two years it'll be universal.

"If you get early childhood education right, everything else works," the mayor said in announcing that plan last month. "What I felt from the beginning is that the investments in early childhood education have a profound impact on families...but they are also where we get the biggest impact for the dollars we spend on education."

Porter at the time called the expansion of 3-K a "big deal" adding that the news "couldn't come at a better time as New York City turns the corner on this virus."

So how do you apply to get your kid in 3-K this September? If you have a child born in 2018, you can apply now for 3-K programs that begin in fall 2021.

  • In school districts 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 16, 19, 23, 27, 31, and 32, there is a 3-K seat for every three-year-old. 
  • In school districts 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29 and 30, the City will offer 3-K seats to as many as possible.
  • Families across the city can still apply to programs in any district, but a child has priority to attend 3-K for All programs in the district where they live. Families can find out their school district by calling 311 or visiting
  • Additionally, each district will continue to offer Extended Day/Year 3-K programs to families who qualify based on income and needs. 

The 3-K application deadline for the upcoming school year has been extended to May 28, 2021. To apply, visit MySchools to create a MySchools account. This link will also provide information to let adults explore 3-K program options for the child in their care, build an application, and apply online. For more information, click here.

The school plan is just one part of the mayor's proposed $98.6 billion budget for the next fiscal year, the largest budget in city history. The size of the budget is due in some part to NYC receiving federal dollars in an effort to recover from the pandemic. Other key pieces include $112 million to help with the city's mental health crisis and $27 million to curb the growing violence problem.

Also in the budget is money to aid in cleaning up the city, with de Blasio planning on hiring 10,000 new workers to "beautify the city."

"We are getting to do things in this budget some of us have dreamed of but never thought we could do," the mayor said at a press conference Monday.

But critics say the mayor's savings plan is "anemic," and that he's spending too much, too fast. The watchdog group Citizens Budget Commission said the budget "fails to leverage the historic opportunity." The city's top business group said there's not enough focus on police and public safety.

"Shootings are up 250 percent in neighborhoods of the city," said Partnership for NY's Kathy Wylde. "Bringing people back to work, making people feel safe, is all top of mind with employers."

In addition to that, transit unions sent a letter to City Hall Monday asking de Blasio to boost the investment in public safety, especially in the subways. But the mayor insists there's plenty of investment to go around."

The City Council will weigh in on the budget next, and will likely be a hot topic on the campaign trail as the race heats up. The mayoral primary is just two months away.

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