In Union City, Gov. Murphy announces pre-k expansion funds

State, local officials tout the benefits of early childhood education and applaud Union City

Research strongly supports that early childhood education can be crucial to students' later success.
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Research strongly supports that early childhood education can be crucial to students' later success.

Gov. Phil Murphy appeared at Eugenio Maria De Hostas Center for Early Childhood Education, a Union City School District facility where hundreds of preschoolers are enrolled, to announce that 28 school districts would receive $20 million from the state budget to help preschool programs reach high-quality designation.

“This is hot off the press,” Murphy said.

One of those districts is Kearny, which received $2,661,345, the second highest of any school that was funded during this round.

High-quality preschools are defined by having full-day programs, with a certified teacher, an aide, small class sizes, and children with special needs who have an individualized education program.

Since he took office, Murphy has made it clear that he supports expanding preschool programs throughout the state with the goal of universal preschool. He’s pushed successfully for funding to preschools in public school districts that reach a high-quality designation.

Murphy chose Union City as the venue for the announcement due to the high recognition the city’s early childhood education program has received, since it was launched in 1998.

He called Union City’s school district a model for preschool programs. Union City’s preschool is supported through a network of public-private partnerships, including the federal Head Start program.

Crucial to success

“Union City has taken a multifaceted approach to ensuring high quality preschool by working with dozens of community provider programs, including Headstart,” Murphy said. “They make Union City a model for other communities, not just statewide, but nationwide. Every single dollar we invest in pre-k helps make New Jersey more affordable for our diverse middle class of working families. We know that increasing the general knowledge and vocabulary of a child before they enter the first grade is the single highest correlate with later success.”

Eugenio Maria De Hostas Principal Adriana Birne said that Union City’s early childhood education program was crucial to the district’s high success rates.

“We now have over 1,800 students, three to four years old,” Birne said. “Many of our students are economically disadvantaged, and second language learners, but, despite these challenges, students excel and leave kindergarten reading and writing.”

State Senator Teresa Ruiz, who chairs the Education Committee, spoke highly of efforts to provide students with advantages that early education affords.

“One kindergarten teacher came to us with an assessment that she does on the first day of school,” Ruiz said. “On one side, we saw photos of children who had been exposed to highly qualified preschool programs, and on the other side we saw students who may very well have been holding a pencil for the first time. The difference in trajectory was extraordinary.”

Ruiz said that kindergarten teachers often struggle to balance curricula due to the contrast between students who’ve attended pre-k and those who haven’t, which creates difficulty in meeting children’s individual needs.

“It is not rocket science,” Ruiz said. “This is not an expenditure, it’s an investment, and I credit this administration for realizing that.”

At the event, Union City Mayor Brian Stack, an early endorser of Murphy’s 2021 reelection bid, attributed the district’s success to those who directly work with students day in and day out.

“It’s the educators, the teachers, the support staff, and every employee in the school system who makes the district what it is,” Stack said. “Everyone in our district has a profound effect on our children’s lives.”

Other officials at the event included Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, Assembly members Raj Mukerji and Annette Chaparro, and New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet.

For updates on this and more stories check hudsonreporter.com or follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mike Montemarano can be reached at mikem@hudsonreporter.com.