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As Officials Fight For Pre-K, Kindergarten Programs Fall Victim To Budget Woes

PORT CHESTER, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- As the push for universal prekindergarten in New York state makes headlines nearly every day, some educators and parents outside New York City are wondering if state leaders are getting ahead of themselves.

As CBS 2's Lou Young reported, cash-strapped school districts have been cutting back on kindergarten classes -- the only grade that is optional for school districts.

Research now shows that children should start school even earlier than kindergarten, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have separately been pushing proposals for universal full-day prekindergarten.

"To have universal pre-K full day and then not to have guaranteed access to kindergarten full day is putting the cart way before the horse," said the Rev. Bruce Baker of Westchester United, a coalition of religious and community organizations.

Many educators say it shouldn't be an option for school districts to cut back or eliminate kindergarten in order to balance their budgets.

"I couldn't imagine there not being the (kindergarten) experience for every single child," said Judy Diaz, assistant principal at John F. Kennedy Magnet School in Port Chester.

The debate to cut back kindergarten has raged in numerous communities, from East Ramapo to Mount Vernon.

The state Legislature passed a law two years ago requiring full-time kindergarten in New York City. But a bill mandating it for all schools in the state has been languishing in committee in the state Assembly

In Rye, Ophelia Rodriguez told Young she has to juggle her schedule to care for 5-year-old because of a split kindergarten schedule. On some days, school lets out a 3 p.m., and other days at noon.

And the schedules could change again from year to year depending on the budget -- full days, half days, possibly nothing at all.

Nathaniel Adams, a New Rochelle father, said scaling back kindergarten will have dire consequences on learning.

"If you don't have a strong foundation, when you get into these upper grades, you're going to struggle," he said.

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