New York begins free universal pre-kindergarten

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reads to children in a pre-kindergarten class at P.S. 130 on February 25, 2014, in New York City. De Blasio stopped by the classroom after a news conference about his plans for universal pre-kindergarten in New York City.

On Thursday, more than 50,000 4-year-olds in New York City get to go to full-day pre-kindergarten. The best part? It's free, in a place where early education is the most expensive in the nation, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

It's an initiative of Mayor Bill de Blasio.  

So what are parents in New York thinking about the citywide universal pre-K program?

"It's about time!" says Mildred Warner, who studies the economic impact of early education at Cornell University.

She says preschool education makes kids more ready for school and less likely to drop out. As for parents, they have to skip work less often.

"It also increases productivity of parents at work, because they know their children are in a good, developmentally appropriate place," she says.

Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, says many working low-income families previously had to rely on family or neighbors for childcare, which can be unreliable.

He says for middle-class families, universal pre-K frees up money for them to buy more stuff, take more vacations, and spend more on a mortgage.

"You could maybe do some more saving for college," he says.

Barnett says for that, it's never too early to start.

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