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Sweeney, Ruiz, Belleville School Photo 2


Hear from Local Elected Leaders, School Officials & Parents on Need for Expansion

Belleville – Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz today visited Belleville School #4 where they heard from local elected leaders, school officials, teachers and parents about the benefits of a preschool education to children and the need for an expansion of New Jersey’s high-quality programs to additional school districts.

 Senate Democrats are championing legislation to expand full-day preschool to additional districts in the state, with priority going to those with highest concentration of at-risk pupils. Belleville Public Schools is one of the districts that would be eligible for state-funded expansion under the legislation, which would appropriate $103 million to the effort.

“Expanding pre-K education is proven to provide lasting student achievement, and is one of the best investments New Jersey can make in its future labor force,” said Senate President Sweeney. “In addition to preparing students academically, high-quality pre-school programs also provide substantial savings to the state over the long term.”

“Research shows that quality early childhood education is one of the greatest investments we can make in our children. We already have a model program operating in the state’s former Abbott Districts but we have to do more to provide all of our children with the foundation they need to be successful,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “The ultimate goal is to provide high-quality pre-school to all New Jersey children and our legislation advances that effort.”

The senators visited a kindergarten classroom and were joined by Belleville Public Schools Superintendent Richard Tomko, local officials, teachers and several parents in a roundtable discussion on the benefits of pre-k education as well as the status of programs in the state. Also participating in the discussion was Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, and Sam Crane of Pre-K Our Way.

“The research clearly shows that early education programs help students become more successful throughout their years in elementary and high school,” stated Dr. Richard Tomko, Superintendent of Schools in the Belleville Public Schools District.  “Program initiatives like those currently spearheaded by Senate President Sweeney and Senator Ruiz are exactly what will help families in Belleville and the surrounding communities ensure that all children have an opportunity to get ahead at an early age.”

“Attending high-quality preschool gives young children the best start toward success in school and in life. Children who attend high-quality preschool are more likely to graduate from high school, go on to college or career and become productive citizens,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “New Jersey has the best state-funded preschool program in the country, but it doesn’t reach enough children. Too many are excluded because they live in communities that do not have preschool. This legislation takes a great step forward in providing that strong start to more children.”

The educational benefits to students of attending high quality pre-k programs also include reduced grade retention, decreased placement in special education and improved achievement.  Studies also show that students who attend high-quality pre-K programs demonstrate fewer juvenile and adult arrests; increased participation in the workforce as adults; less participation in the public government assistance system; and overall improvement of student health. The U.S. Department of Education has stated that for every dollar spent on preschool, seven dollars in taxpayer money is saved.

The visit was part of the Senate Democratic initiative “New Jersey: Investing In You,” the multi-faceted plan to invest in key areas that will move the state forward, including plans to expand preschool education in New Jersey. Senator Ruiz is leading the effort on early childhood education.

“Children who have access to high-quality pre-k programs enter kindergarten prepared for school,” said Sam Crane, spokesperson for Pre-K Our Way. “The legislation sponsored by Senator Ruiz, S997, would begin a process to fully implement the 2008 law which called for expanding New Jersey’s high-quality 3- and 4-year old preschool program to 102 other districts across the state. This will allow more children to benefit from the state’s preschool program and to begin school ready for success.”

Also attending the event were Belleville School #4 Principal Dora Cavallo and Belleville Board of Education President John Rivera.

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