Gov. Phil Murphy is pressing ahead with a plan to eventually provide universal pre-K to all families across the Garden State.

During a visit to the Palisades Park Early Childhood Center on Thursday, the governor announced 19 school districts have been awarded $17 million to expand pre-K programs for the 2021-2022 school year.

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“Access to high quality pre-K doesn’t just produce early readers — it builds a foundation for lifelong learning, teaching children skills they will use for the rest of their lives, setting them on a path of successful and fulfilling careers," he said.

Murphy said the state Department of Education will develop a Universal Pre-K Strategic Plan that will focus on:

• Prioritizing districts and setting a timeline for expansion;
• Ensuring students have appropriate facilities and quality programming;
• Involving childcare providers and Head Start in planning to avoid displacing existing high-quality early learning centers;
• Optimizing funding streams, including federal funds from the federal Build Back Better Plan;
• Utilizing best practices from other states that offer expanded/universal pre-k programs.

He stressed a good education not only equips students with skills and knowledge, but also it has the power to change the trajectory of their lives and “increasing the general knowledge and vocabulary of a child before they enter the first grade is the single highest correlation with later success.”

Angelica Allen-McMillan, the acting education commissioner, said “research has shown that children’s trajectory for academic success starts early, and continues throughout their life, investing in preschool education pays dividends for our students and future of the State of New Jersey.”

The governor also noted “education in general and pre-K in particular is one of our best opportunities to close the achievement gap for students who come from low income and disadvantaged communities.”

Murphy added expanding pre-K is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

“Research shows that for every dollar invested in high quality early childhood education we gain more than $7 in economic returns over the long term, investing in early childhood education just makes sense.”

New Jersey Education Association President Sean Spiller said we know not every child in the Garden State has the same opportunities and “this investment in our youngest students is another important step in our shared work to build a more just and equitable future.”

Districts that received new state funding to expand or create a high-quality preschool program in the 2021-2022 school year include:

Atlantic County — Mullica Township — $512,823

Bergen County — Palisades Park — $823,860

Camden County —  Audubon Boro (Audubon Park) —  $440,319
Camden County —  Berlin Township —  $336,713

Cape May County — Cape May City— $376,033

Cumberland County — Commercial Township— $563,112
Cumberland County —  Deerfield Township— $415,831

Gloucester County —   Monroe Township— $1,399,892
Gloucester County —   Washington Township— $1,113,420
Gloucester County —   Westville— $655,573

Hudson County —   East Newark— $337,039

Ocean County —   Jackson Township— $3,173,040
Ocean County —   Ocean Gate— $264,462
Ocean County —   Stafford Township— $3,245,355

Passaic County —   Bloomingdale— $540,600

Salem County —   Penns Grove-Carney’s Pt Reg.— $1,138,728
Salem County —   Woodstown-Pilesgrove Reg.— $1,067,165
Salem County —   Upper Pittsgrove Township— $672,760

Sussex County —   Hamburg— $579,984

Average SAT scores for every NJ high school

Average scores for the 2019-2020 school year are listed by county, from highest to lowest.