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Cambridge to Launch Universal Pre-K for Four-Year-Olds in Fall 2024

The Cambridge Public Schools Administrative Center, located off Cambridge St., houses the superintendent's office.
The Cambridge Public Schools Administrative Center, located off Cambridge St., houses the superintendent's office. By Anne M. Foley
By Sally E. Edwards and Ayumi Nagatomi, Crimson Staff Writers

Cambridge Public Schools will offer universal pre-K to all Cambridge four-year-olds beginning in the 2024-2025 school year.

After years of preparation and research, the Cambridge City Council and CPS School Committee introduced the Cambridge Preschool Program in a roundtable meeting Tuesday night. The preschool program is set to guarantee access for all four-year-old children in Cambridge to the district’s six-hour-per-day programming.

The district organized an advisory committee, three task force groups, and an ad hoc committee of city and school officials and constituents to draft the program.

Lisa Grant, executive director of the Cambridge Office of Early Childhood, said the advisory groups focused on studying local demographics, parental priorities, and “what universal pre-K looks like around the country.”

“Throughout this process, we’ve been hyper-concerned and focused on making sure that we’re reaching our most under-resourced families — our families who need access to preschool the most,” Grant said.

The initial planning phase consisted of “a lot of data gathering,” according to Grant. Through the district’s research of programs around the country, CPS found that its pre-K system has an advantage due to the relatively small population of Cambridge.

“The unique advantage for us is that we’re small enough to really have a handle on our entire early childhood community and have a dedicated team of staff and resources to be able to implement this work,” Grant said.

The district worked with various organizations to develop the framework for the preschool program, including Harvard. Last year, CPS partnered with the University to conduct a citywide childcare workforce study, examining wage gaps among childhood educators. The impact of the study goes beyond the district by “informing the work in communities across the country,” Grant said.

The program has so far “every key benchmark,” according to Grant, and is on track for a fall 2024 launch. Currently, the district is developing a single enrollment application system for families, which is set to be released toward the end of the year.

“I can really see also that 2023 is going to be a really special year because I can see how much this is when we're moving from the planning phase into really making a lot of the changes in investments that are going to get us to a launch in fall of 2024,” City Manager Yi-An Huang ’05 said.

While attendees of the roundtable discussion broadly supported the plan, many presented lingering concerns about the preschool program’s accessibility across age groups.

In its current form, the preschool program will offer its services to all children who are four years old prior to Sept. 1 each school year. While three-year-olds are still able to apply, they are not guaranteed a place in the program. To extend the program to all four-year-olds, the city plans to allocate an additional $20 million in funding.

“If the child is eligible to receive special education services or lives in a household below a certain income threshold or as other defined risk factors, then placement in Cambridge preschool program site would be prioritized,” Grant said. “Cambridge Preschool Program does not have the capacity to serve all three-year-olds at this time.”

City Councilor Dennis J. Carlone said in an interview that he feels a “little frustrated” by the lack of a long-term plan to incorporate two and three-year-olds into the universal preschool program.

“I’m optimistic – but what I said last night is what are the future plans? How do we expand?” he said.

“Through social services, we have an enormous ability to make a real difference for kids who have one parent who has to work or are low-income,” Carlone added. “I want that for more kids. That’s really what it comes down to.”

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @sallyedwards04.

—Staff writer Ayumi Nagatomi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ayumi_nagatomi.

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