The city doesn't have room in its neighborhood schools for all the city's 4-year-olds. To create more seats, it contracts with child-care centers, private nursery schools, religious schools and community centers. In addition, the city has established freestanding "pre-k centers," which children attend for just one year.
While some ordinary neighborhood schools have pre-kindergarten, the bulk of seats are in these other locations. Your child is guaranteed a seat somewhere but there is no guarantee you will get your first choice. No transportation is provided (except for children with special needs and those in temporary housing).
Child-care centers are designed for working parents and are open year-round, usually from 8 am to 6 pm. The city pays for 6 hours and 20 minutes, 180 days a year, the same as the public school calendar. Parents must pay for the remaining hours; however the cost is much less than at centers that do not participate in public pre-k programs. Also called Early Childhood Centers, these tend to have more experience caring for young children than elementary schools and may have more flexibility in routines. For example, a child who is tired may be permitted to nap rather than take part in an activity. Some child-care centers charge parents on a sliding scale depending on their income; some limit enrollment to low-income families.
Head Start Centers, part of the 50-year-old federal anti-poverty program, give priority to low-income families. The hours tend to be longer than an ordinary public school but shorter than child-care centers. The Head Start programs we have visited are of high quality.
Private and religious schools sometimes contract with the city to offer free pre-k classes. To meet the city's requirements for separation of church and state, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim schools do not offer religious instruction during the hours of public pre-k. However, they may offer religious instruction outside those hours. Some of the private preschools give preference to children who are already enrolled in their classes for 3-year-olds; so if you are applying for one of those pre-k spots for the first time when your child is 4, you may be out of luck.
Charter schools offer pre-k in some cases. Contact the schools directly or fill out the online application at http://www.nyccharterschools.org.
Public elementary schools offer pre-k if they have room. The most popular and overcrowded elementary schools simply don’t have space; some may have just 18 pre-k seats and more than 100 kindergarten seats.
Pre-k Centers were set up by the Department of Education as a way to expand the number of seats available in school districts that had little room in their ordinary public schools. Some of these are housed in a leased space; some are housed in new public school buildings that are not yet at full capacity. They have as many as 10 pre-k classes in one location, and children stay at these schools for just one year. The pre-k centers we have visited are of high quality. Their teachers are certified and regular employees of the Department of Education.