NEW YORK (CBSNewYork)-- Mayor Bill de Blasio's universal pre-kindergarten program is going into its third year and promises a free seat for every city child.
In past years, the program received complaints from parents who were told things would be smoother this year, CBS2's Emily Smith reports.
The first round of letters went out to parents telling them which school their child will be placed in, but some families are calling the program a joke.
For a New York City family to send a child to private pre-school, it costs $20,000 a year and up.
So when Jacqueline Taylor saw de Blasio's 2013 campaign to provide free pre-school for all four-year-olds, she felt confident her growing family could continue to live in Manhattan.
"We really banked on this universal pre-K system because everyone in New York City is promised a seat," she said.
However, the Department of Education sent letters this month telling families whether their top 12 choices could be accommodated. Taylor not only got rejected from all schools near her Upper West Side home, but was told her son Benjamin would have to travel an hour to Brooklyn to go to pre-school.
"I thought my son would get to go to school next year but he can't, so he will stay home with me and the baby," Taylor said.
Countless others tell similar stories of four-year-olds slotted for schools two city miles away.
"We got a spot on West 44th Street in a different district which is forcing us to pay another year... [It's costing us] roughly $30,000," Upper West Side parent David Miller said.
"We would just be out of luck and we are middle-class and we can't afford to put her in an all day pre-K next year," Upper West Side parent Julianna Parmenter said.
According to DOE, 85 percent of families received an offer to one of their top three free high-quality pre-kindergarten programs.
Lydia Budianto feels lucky to get her first choice school. She's been paying $20,000 a year for her three-year-old to go to Play Together NYC private daycare. Now her son will remain at the same school for free.
The owner of Budianto's pre-school said the city offered her $10,000 a child to go part-public and open slots to universal pre-K. Those who have been there for the toddler daycare program get first priority.
"They are actively trying to partner with more and more private schools like mine.... that's a solution," pre-school director Nyla Kamlet said.
While the universal pre-school program sounds like a good idea, if you happen to be among the 15 percent asked to travel forty blocks or even to another borough, the promise of universal pre-K isn't so universal.
City officials insist that a child would never be placed in another borough but CBS2 found at least two cases of that happening. A city spokesperson also told CBS2 that a parent can apply for any upcoming available seat in round two, and there's also an outreach team to help families find the best program for them.
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