A bipartisan group of Assembly members want to expand New Jersey's pre-kindergarten program to more than 100 districts in the state.

Preschool children. (Jupiterimages, ThinkStock)
Preschool children. (Jupiterimages, ThinkStock)

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Maplewood) is a co-sponsor of the bill along with Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus) and Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Parsippany). The proposed legislation would provide for the full-day programs for 3 and 4-year-olds, and appropriate $110 million to fund it.

"It is important that we get funding into the budget to begin this process," Jasey told NJ 101.5.

Also joining Jasey on the bill are Assemblyman Pat Diegnan (D-South Plainfield) and Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Clifton) to date. Jasey says she expects to have more support from members of the Legislature as well.

The expansion in this proposal goes back to the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 in which more than 100 school districts were recognized as being the next tier or the next group of districts that should have pre-K expansion.

According to Jasey the recession kept the state from fulfilling expansion plans laid out in the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.

"What my legislation does is, it goes back to that, and basically says we need to give those districts the opportunity to apply to the Department of Education with plans to expand pre-K in those districts. And those districts basically represent most of the 50 percent of kids who are at risk, who are not living in the former Abbott districts," Jasey said.

She said reaching children and families at an early age is a very effective way to also combat poverty and put kids on the right road toward being academically successful, "it is a good economic investment for the state."

Jasey said New Jersey has the highest-quality pre-kindergarten program, recognized both nationally and internationally, but it is not available to every child in the state. She said where a child resides in the state should not determine whether they have access to pre-K.

"It will not happen overnight, but we need to begin planning, and because budgets reflect priorities, it is important that we get funding into the budget to begin this process," she said.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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