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NYS approves Universal Pre-kindergarten funding, but amount is in limbo

Citing revenue losses and the pandemic, the state said 'the final level of reimbursement will be determined by the level of Federal support delivered to the State.'

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Negotiations are currently at a stand-still in Washington on a second COVID-19 relief package, which means New York State does not know how much federal assistance it will receive.

This has left local school districts unsure of how much Universal Pre-Kindergarten funding they will collect.

On Thursday, 2 On Your Side reached out to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office after hearing that school districts had yet to receive their state funding for UPK.

Universal Pre-Kindergarten is a New York State grant-funded program to prepare 3 and 4-year-olds for kindergarten.

Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurrie said the district receives $4.4 million in UPK funding based on the number of students enrolled.

"That funding is used for the training, hiring and materials for teachers of 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds," Laurrie said.

Freeman Klopott, the press officer for the New York State Division of the Budget, issued a statement Thursday evening about Universal Prekindergarten Program funding:

“The State is approving full prekindergarten grant allocations for the 2020-21 school year," he said. "However, with revenue losses amounting to $62 billion over four years due entirely to the pandemic, the final level of reimbursement will be determined by the level of Federal support delivered to the State.”

Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District Superintendent Sabatino Cimato addressed UPK funding during the district's public meeting Thursday. 

"We have not been given the clearance or the funding yet for UPK. UPK is fully funded and we’re waiting for that aid from our state," Cimato said. "Our state I know is still trying to figure things out. Ladies and gentlemen to be perfectly honest we’re going to be very limited if we can even offer UPK at all.

"I’m putting it out there, other districts are in the same boat. It’s not just Ken-Ton that’s in that boat. I hope to have more information tomorrow but right now we’re waiting on the funding for UPK."

Added Laurrie: "We are planning for a full program. We know by the Governor's statements that cuts up to 20% could happen anywhere and everywhere across the board of education. The half-full side of me says until we get that letter and the official word that we are going to receive it, I am going to remain on the hopefulness side instead of relief."

With no end in site for negotiations in Washington, districts are left wondering how much money they can expect for the UPK program.