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City Trying to Figure Out How Charter Schools, Pre-K Fit Together

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Fierce battles over education philosophy, money and space during Mayor Bill de Blasio's first few months centered around charter schools and universal pre-kindergarten, and now, as the political dust settles, both charter schools and pre-kindergarten are set to expand, and the city is working to figure out how the two fit together. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Pick any book on this shelf, and 4-year-old Jeremiah can read it to you.

"Because I'm a big boy, I could read, and reading is fun to do," Jeremiah said.

Any of the three dozen students in this brand-new pre-K program could be a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio on the value of early education.

"Because you learn and have fun, and you go to centers and you learn," said one student.

Here's the twist: this pre-k program is in a charter school, PAVE Academy in Red Hook.

"There's just so much evidence that suggests a really quality early childhood program is a really integral part of a child's academic success," said Spencer Robertson, executive director of PAVE Academy Charter School.

Yet until a few weeks ago, state law made it very difficult for charter schools to start pre-K programs. In fact, as of now, PAVE's pre-K program is technically independent, which means the students are not guaranteed a spot in the kindergarten class.

Now, the law has changed, so starting next school year, charters will be able to have pre-K as part of their official program.

Last week, dozens of charter school leaders attended a meeting at the Department of Education to learn how, but many walked away saying there's not enough time to work out difficult logistics like space and staffing by the start of the next school year. Even Success Academies, the largest charter school network and known for its rapid expansion, plans to wait a year.

Kathryn Fabian, the director of the program at PAVE, said for high-performing charter schools in low-income neighborhoods, pre-K is a perfect fit, but to do it right takes time.

"It's been really, really exciting, but a lot of hard work, to make sure that this program is up and running, but also that we have all the pieces in place to make sure it's super-high-quality," Fabian said.

Later this week, the Department of Education will give applications to charter schools that want to start programs by September. It remains to be seen how many apply.

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