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NY extends pre-K funding

April 12, 2019
By PETER CROWLEY - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - After an initial five-year trial period, funding for Lake Placid's universal pre-kindergarten partnership with St. Agnes School has been extended for another year - and officials hope the state will keep it going indefinitely.

In the 2014 state budget deal, New York's lawmakers and governor required every school district that didn't already have UPK to implement it - and the state put up $1.5 billion to pay for those startups for the first five years.

The Lake Placid Central School District had been one of the holdouts. Instead of starting its own UPK, the district teamed up with St. Agnes, the local Catholic school, whose existing pre-K program would have been devastated by a state-funded alternative. Now St. Agnes runs Lake Placid's UPK, with costs covered by the state instead of families' tuition.

The five-year grant ends this summer. District Superintendent Roger Catania said he had heard it would be renewed but wasn't sure until he saw the school aid run, after the Legislature passed the budget bills Sunday night, March 31 and early Monday morning, April 1. Beyond a sixth year, he isn't sure, but he is hopeful.

"We're really encouraged by that, that this could really be a program that is continued indefinitely," he said April 3. "We just haven't had that confirmed yet."

"This is, of course, what we had been hoping for and had been led to believe the whole time, but seeing it in the budget is confirmation," St. Agnes Principal Catherine Bemis said April 3.

The amount of state funding will not change from each of the last five years. Catania said it covers either $10,000 or $7,000 per UPK student, depending on circumstances, up to a maximum of $405,000 per year.

There are currently 28 students in UPK at St. Agnes, which Bemis said is the lowest number yet. Enrollment has been in the 30s every year up to now, she said.

St. Agnes faced an existential crisis a decade ago. As enrollment dropped, the school was on the verge of closing or merging with St. Bernard's, a Catholic elementary in Saranac Lake, but it pulled out of that spiral by becoming a primary school, dropping all grades above third, and making pre-K a bigger priority.

"The transition to an early education environment was very intentional, to meet the needs of the community," said Bemis, who led the school through that transition.

It worked. St. Agnes now has 45 students in grades K-3, more than it had in K-5 a decade ago, and Bemis said the school's finances had also stabilized by the time UPK came around.

"The UPK program dovetailed perfectly with what we were already doing," she said. "We were able to create a strong partnership with the district and really prepare kids for kindergarten."

Catania agreed, saying, "It has gone exceptionally well. We have a great working relationship. We work closely together certainly at the leadership level, and we have also connected at the teacher level, especially in the spring.

"The quality of the program has also been exceptional, and that's not just me talking, although I do go out and observe. That's coming from the folks at the state Education Department. ... They have come by and spent a day at the program before."

A few years ago, he added, he and Bemis were invited to speak at a statewide pre-K conference as an example of a model partnership.



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