- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

Reports have shown that New Jersey’s state-funded preschools are helping children do better as they get into elementary school, but the chairwoman of the state Senate’s education committee says the programs are not available to enough children.

The senator, Newark Democrat Teresa Ruiz, is holding a hearing Monday that she says is the first step at addressing that. She wants to talk about the state of early-childhood education for children from birth through kindergarten now and start discussing funding later.

Here’s a look at the issues:

PRE-SCHOOLS

Since 2002, the state government has funded full-day preschools for 3- and 4-year-olds in a group of low-income school districts. A Rutgers University report issued this year found that students who were in the programs did better than their peers on standardized tests in fourth and fifth grade.

But a 2007 plan to expand the programs to additional lower-income districts has not taken flight, largely because of its cost. “The expansion hasn’t gone as quickly as some of us would like,” Ruiz said in an interview.

The state currently funds 35 preschool districts’ programs entirely and subsidizes the programs in another 96 districts at a lower level. Additionally, 18 districts have programs in place this year that are being funded with federal money awarded last year to the state.

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FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN

More New Jersey districts are moving toward full-day kindergarten programs, but 68 of the state’s 518 districts that serve students as young as kindergarten do not have a full-day offering.

The lowest-income districts have full-day programs.

The districts that don’t have it include those in some wealthy communities where the state subsidy per-student is relatively low.

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WHAT’S UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

Ruiz says she wants policymakers to think creatively about how to pay for expansions of early childhood education programs, including making sure the state is getting all the federal money it can.

She says she would like to have pre-schools and full-day kindergarten, as well as programs aimed at learning for children who are 3-years-old and younger. But she said it’s more likely any programs would focus on families who struggle to afford the programs on their own.

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