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‘Betrayal, Shock, Confusion’: Despite Promises from Eric Adams, Parents Denied 3-K Seats for Their Kids

"To not get a seat anywhere is just so unconscionable. We don't know what to do."

From a visit by then-Mayor Bill de Blasio to a 3-K classroom in Brooklyn. (Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Eric Adams has promised over and over again that despite his cuts to early childhood education, every parent who wants a seat in 3-K for their child will get one. 

Tell that to Ben Lowe, a Prospect Heights dad who applied to a dozen different 3-K programs for his three-year-old daughter—and, on Thursday, got rejected from all of them.

"It's a really bad situation for us," said Lowe, who had been counting on enrolling his younger daughter Alexandra in free preschool but is now number 50 on the waiting list at his family's first-choice school. "I'm angry. I'm angry with Mayor Adams for promising that everyone would get a seat, and then that didn't come together. I feel betrayed, and I feel scared about what's going to happen."

Lowe is not the only New Yorker in this boat. As 3-K offers went out on Thursday, he was one of many parents across the city whose child did not get a seat.

Adams has rolled back the City's commitment to universal preschool for 3-year-olds, a signature program of his predecessor Bill de Blasio that followed up on the popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds. Adams cut $170 million from early childhood education in November. Those cuts, slated to go into effect this July, have not been restored, even as Adams kicked in $92 million in City funds for 3-K to replace expiring federal stimulus money. 

Adams has continued to insist his cuts will just eliminate seats that have been going empty. 

"Every child who wants a seat will have access to one," he said at his executive budget announcement in April. In case that wasn't clear enough, he reiterated it two more times: "Let me repeat that again. Every child who wants a seat will have access to one. One more time, so that it is quoted accurately. Every child who wants a seat will have access to one."

City Hall says the promise still stands—94 percent of parents who applied on time got a 3-K offer, and for the rest, officials will work to match them with one of 9,000 seats around the city that are still open. They acknowledged that Thursday's letter sent to parents failed to make that clear. 

"The mayor was clear: Every child who wants a seat will have access to a seat and he will keep his word. The guidance sent to a limited number of families by New York City Public Schools, unfortunately, did not fully convey all the seats still available to New York City students," said Adams spokesperson Amaris Cockfield. "NYCPS is sending an updated letter that will make perfectly clear that there are  approximately 9,000 seats still open for 3-K, and we will work with each family who has not received an offer to any of their choices to find the nearest location with available seats that works best for them."

Citywide, there were about 43,000 applicants for 52,000 3-K seats, according to City Hall. Both the City Council and the Mayor's Office have said the City's outreach to families to make them aware of the program has been insufficient. The executive budget contains $5 million to increase outreach.  

Lowe said he is hoping to get a seat off the waiting list—though if it's far from his home, he's not sure how he'll manage dropping off and picking up both his 3-year-old and his 5-year old-who will be going to kindergarten in Prospect Heights. If it doesn't work out, he's facing a $20,000 annual bill for childcare, money his family had hoped to put toward a larger apartment or save for their kids' college. 

"If we're not able to eliminate that cost, we're going to have to make some pretty hard choices on what we're spending. We're going to have to cut back," he said. "We might be just one crisis away from things just sort of falling apart."

He hasn't broken the news to his daughter about the rejections yet. 

"Alexandra is really excited about going to big kid school," he said. "She's going to be crushed by that."

In Long Island City, Mana Goldstein also got a letter informing her she was not offered a seat at any public preschool for daughter, who will be three years old in the fall. 

"It's stressful," Goldstein said. "We're very much New Yorkers, we very much want to stay in New York, but it does tug on our heartstrings that we may have to leave, because, is there going to be no stability? And do we have to go through this kind of drama every year with the DOE?"

Goldstein has already paid a deposit to secure a spot in a private preschool, and faces a $2,200 monthly cost if her daughter doesn’t end up getting into 3-K. 

If that happens, she said she might have to consider leaving her job as an anesthesiologist at a public hospital in the Bronx for a private hospital with better pay, or take on extra shifts. She and her husband might also put off having another child. 

"If you make it increasingly difficult for your public servants to continue to live in the places where they work, we're going to move away or we're going to move into the private sector," she said. 

Rebecca Bailin, the executive director of New Yorkers United for Child Care, said families across the city are facing these kinds of difficult choices. By Thursday evening, just hours after families received their letters, she had heard from at least 50 families who either didn't get a seat or got one far enough from home that it will be difficult to get their kids there. 

"The mayor has said since coming into office in 2022 that rolling out universal 3-K is not his priority. He has said that point-blank," she said. Parents who were banking on the program when they decided to have kids in the city, Bailin said, "feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them. They feel a huge amount of betrayal, shock, confusion."

At a budget hearing on Wednesday, councilmembers pressed DOE Schools Chancellor David Banks on the status of early childhood funding. In March, Banks had said the cuts would likely be reversed, but that did not happen when Adams proposed his executive budget in April. Adams and the council will negotiate a final budget, which is due by the end of June. 

"Our budget reflects, for the first time, a sustainable fiscal model for 3-K," Banks said Wednesday.

A.C., a mom in Washington Heights who asked to be identified by her initials, got the news her daughter didn't get a 3-K seat despite applying to 10 schools—and has also been turned away by all the private preschools she has applied to.

"We're asked to put in so much time and effort, and to not get a seat anywhere is just so unconscionable," she said. She added, "There's really no option for her. We don't know what to do."

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