(129864)

Almost 22,000 families have applied for seats in the city’s expanded universal pre-k program during the first day of registration, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced during a press conference last week.

The “Pre-K for All” program is in its second year of offering free, full-day pre-K to 4-year-olds throughout New York City. The nearly 22,000 parents who applied this year was up 6,500 applicants from the first day of registration last year. To be eligible for the program this coming fall, children must have been born in 2011 and reside in one of the five boroughs.

“We’ve made Pre-K for All the centerpiece of our vision for a more fair and equal city,” said de Blasio. “Come September, more children than ever will walk through the doors of our district schools and Early Education Centers on a path that will help them succeed in their education and beyond.”

Last fall, a total of 53,000 families applied for the program. This year, de Blasio and his administration are expecting approximately 70,000 to apply by the deadline in April. The mayor guarantees that every 4-year-old will have access to this “life-changing, educational opportunity.”

“Four-year-olds are learning new vocabulary, experimenting with science and making friends,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said. “Every child deserves this opportunity, and we are delivering for all families across the city.”

The “Pre-K for All” programs will be available at district schools, charter schools and NYC Early Childhood Centers throughout the city. Each program had to go through a testing process, which included interviews of faculty and inspections of the physical space. As a result, 55 percent of the programs that applied were chosen to host universal pre-K classes, according to the mayor’s office.

“Parents are looking for quality care and a place for their children while they work,” said Paulette Perry, the director of the Afro-American Parents Educational Center in Jamaica, Queens. Perry’s program, which offers breakfast, lunch, snacks and indoor and outdoor play areas, has been operating since October of last year and currently has 15 children enrolled. Children are typically at the center from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

This year, families use a single application to apply for up to dozen programs. Parents can search for centers in their area and apply at http://schools.nyc.gov/ChoicesEnrollment/PreK/default.htm. The deadline to apply is April 24.