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Walsh hopes to double preschool enrollment by 2018

Mayor Martin J. Walsh named a 27-member task force Tuesday to recommend ways to double the enrollment of 4-year-olds in high-quality preschool programs across Boston by 2018.

The Universal Pre-Kindergarten Advisory Committee will examine how to increase capacity within the city’s school system as well as in the private sector to accomplish the mayor’s goal.

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About 6,000 4-year-olds live in Boston. But the school system can only accommodate about 2,200 of them in its pre-kindergarten programs, popularly known as K1, even after adding 100 seats for this coming fall.

Many other 4-year-olds attend private programs of varying quality, while 25 percent of the city’s 4-year-olds do not attend any preschool.

“Pre-kindergarten programs ensure that all students start kindergarten ready to learn,” Walsh said in a statement, following the announcement at the Patrick Kennedy Elementary School in East Boston. “Rather than spend time on remediation in education, we are investing in our youngest students to lay the groundwork for their long-term success and the long-term prosperity of Boston.”

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The task force will be cochaired by Jeri Robinson, vice president for education and family learning at the Boston Children’s Museum, and Jason Sachs, director of early childhood education at the Boston public schools.

Walsh promised while campaigning for mayor last year that he would make expanding pre-kindergarten a top priority. Three weeks ago, his transition team released a report on education priorities that called for creating a task force to “develop a concrete plan and timeline” to expand preschool options for 4-year-olds in the public and private sectors.

The move follows the lead of Governor Deval Patrick, who has strived to ensure that all 4-year-olds in the state have access to high-quality preschool programs in public or private settings. Although that effort has expanded capacity, thousands of low-income children remain on waiting lists, primarily because of a lack of state funding to cover tuition costs.

Expanding early education is seen by many education specialists as the best way to ensure that all children arrive in kindergarten ready to learn.

Early education advocates praised Walsh for pushing ahead with his campaign promise.

“We are very encouraged by the work that is happening in communities across the state, including Boston, bringing together stakeholders to work together to figure out the best way to serve young children and families,” said Amy O’Leary, campaign director for the Early Education for All Campaign.

James Vaznis can be reached at jvaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.
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