Rogue Illegal Pre-K’s Apparently Trendy in NYC


In New York City, getting your kids into the “right” preschools is notoriously hard. Fancy people put their toddlers in lotteries to get into very expensive pre-K’s, where parents might pay upwards of $30,000 for their kids to fingerpaint in the right school.

The Times has an interesting account today from a brownstone Brooklyn mother who took an entirely different tack and started her own preschool co-op with other parents. Apparently the city has more of these often-illegal arrangements than you’d think, though the article doesn’t give a clear sense of how many:

In a co-op pre-K, parents work together to create a school that matches their educational philosophy and worldview. They also run it, finance it, staff it, clean it and administer it — whatever is necessary to keep costs as low as possible. Often, schools operate from members’ homes. Some are taught by parents; others by professional teachers. The downside to such an arrangement? It’s a lot of work. We had found that out last school year, when my son had been priced out of private options and we had banded together to form a co-op with some parents from the neighborhood.

Beyond the effort was the challenge of getting different families to work together. When matters as personal as education, values and children are at stake, intense emotions are sure to follow, whether the issue is snacks (organic or not?), paint (machine washable?) or what religious holidays, if any, to acknowledge. Oh, and in many cases, forming a co-op school is illegal, because getting the required permits and passing background checks can be so prohibitively expensive and time-consuming that most co-ops simply don’t.

In order to meet the city’s “stringent” requirements for becoming a legal school, the parents involved in this co-op would have had to do a number of things including immunizing the children, adding fire escapes, adding separate bathrooms for adults and kids, and undergoing background checks — steps they didn’t take. So they went rogue — for a while. The story ends with the author selling out on the idea and putting her son in a regular kindergarten when the time comes.