So, you're thinking of moving to New Jersey from NYC. But you have a young child and aren't sure if passing up on NYC's free Pre-K 4 All (UPK) program is worth it. After all, in most cases it'll mean having to pay for Pre-K 3 & 4, which is upward of $7k - 10K per year in most districts. And if that child has a late birthday between October 1 - December 31, they will enter Pre-K a year later in NJ than they would in NYC, so that's up to THREE YEARS extra of either fee-based preschool (or staying home). And let's say you have twins with late birthdays. You're looking at an extra $60k in schooling / child care for those 3 years. I know. It's a lot to take in. We've been hashing over it for years now. And I'm here to give you the info I've gleamed!! **There may be mistakes in here - please let me know if you find any errors or outdated info!!
UPK in NYC:
My twins are currently enrolled in an amazing free Pre-K program here in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Getting in is a bit stressful as it's a lottery, but in NYC you are guaranteed a seat, though the location could end up being far from your home. We got lucky for all 3 of our kids getting seats at programs less than a mile (walkable) from our home. And nearly everyone does get into a school not too far away, though many avoid the stress by paying for their child to go to the 3's preschool program at that school, so they'll have first priority to get the free UPK seat. The rest of us simply list our top 12 schools in February and cross our fingers! The good news is you're waitlisted at the schools you ranked below the one you were offered. In our case this past year with the twins, we were offered our 11th school. But by September we'd been called by every single school we listed to be offered a seat! The program is amazing, even includes free lunch and snack. Unfortunately, due to Coronavirus, the school year got cut short by over 3 months early and we're pretty devastated. The teachers are still providing regular materials and activities for us to work on at home, and even calling to chat with my girls once a week.
Redshirting in NJ vs. NYC
NYC does not allow redshirting, i.e. delaying entrance into elementary school. Simply put, if you live in NYC, your child enters kindergarten in September of the year they turn 5 (i.e. birthday cutoff of December 31). So if they were born December 31, they will be 4 when they enter Kindergarten and the baby of their grade. My son was born on December 25 so he started Pre-K at 3 years old, which was amazing as far as free child-care goes, but emotionally, he struggled big time in Pre-K and K. If you don't want to send them to Kindergarten, no problem, but they'll start 1st grade with that same cohort that they would have started Kindergarten with. You can't simply enter them into Kindergarten a year later. It appears New Jersey is more flexible here and many choose to send their child a year later.
Most New Jersey districts set a minimum age of 5 years old by October 1 to start Kindergarten (list of later cutoffs coming below!). But let's say your child was born in September - you can discuss with that school to have your child wait to start Kindergarten the next year, when they're 6 years old. This minimum age continues through 1st grade, so if you're transferring your late birthday child from NYC, they would get held back for Pre-K, K, and 1st grade. After completing 1st grade (or is it 2nd? sorry I'm not 100% sure), it becomes a discussion with school administration as to whether you want to hold your child back or continue at their current grade level, knowing your child is likely 1-2 years younger than their classmates. It's not a huge deal in the younger grades, but once you get to middle and high school, emotionally and physically, I've heard across the board it's kind of a big deal and worth considering holding them back when they're younger.
NJ Towns with Late Birthday Cutoffs:
The state has recommended a universal birthday cutoff of October 1, and nearly every school district in New Jersey has put this into effect. However... there are a handful of towns that have slightly later cutoffs, which is worth considering if you're desperate to get your kid into Kindergarten instead of having to pay for Pre-K. This may not be all-inclusive because I could not find a list, anywhere!!! This is a list I've personally compiled after researching, alot (please do comment below if you know of a town to add, or remove):
5 years old by October 31:
5 years old by October 15:
NJ Towns with Universal Free Pre-K:
This 2019 list is compiled from Pre-K Our Way, where the towns are listed by county; ALL 3 and 4 year olds in these former Abbott and Expansion Districts can attend free preschool. From NJ Monthly: "Abbott districts—now referred to as “former Abbott districts” because the rules have been updated—are typically urban districts where poverty is commonplace and the education system found to be constitutionally inadequate. Extra state funding is pumped into the districts, from preschool through grade 12. The communities that have universal, free preschool include the 31 former Abbott districts, whose schools the state is required to fund under the Abbott rulings, and four additional districts—Red Bank, Little Egg Harbor, Fairfield and Woodbine—approved in 2003."
NJ Towns with Free Pre-K for Some (via lottery):
** this 2019 list is compiled from Pre-K Our Way, where they're listed by county **
NJ Towns with Half Day Kindergarten:
But wait, there's one more thing to take into consideration... some New Jersey towns don't have free full day kindergarten yet!!! Over 90% of NJ districts offer free full day kindergarten, but about 40 districts hadn't converted yet and only offer half day for free!!! Some people may see this as a plus, but most don't. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to tell from their websites alone, so we've researched and asked around and put together this very unofficial and incomplete list of some of the school districts that haven't converted to (free) full day programs yet (each year, more are converting to full day - 76% of schools had it in 2012 and 94% had it in 2019, so be sure to double check with the district):
Other Things to Consider:
About Me ^_^
I'm a NYC metro area mom blogger living in NJ with my Japanese husband & our 3 kids (twins plus 1). This blog is chock full of product reviews, family travel guides, and giveaways galore! It's also home to Bay Ridge Families, and several guides focused on kid-friendly activities and guides to South Brooklyn, Hudson Valley, and New Jersey, as well as family-friendly destinations beyond the NYC area (check the menu bar!)