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IBO: City faces budget shortfall for early childhood initiative

The city’s redesigned childcare system is safe for now, but faces cuts in the near future and increased funding uncertainties, according to a report by a budget watchdog.

Earlier this year, advocates successfully lobbied the City Council and Mayor Bloomberg to nix a plan that would have cut 7,200 contracted child care slots. The proposed cuts were the result of the city’s implementation of EarlyLearn — an initiative that aims to streamline and improve early childhood education.

But 4,900 of the seats were restored with one-time City Council funding, an annual stopgap solution that does not address “ongoing funding problems faced by the child care system,” according to the report, authored by the Independent Budget Office.

In 2014, the report projects, “the child care system under EarlyLearn NYC would decrease by 3,060 slots in 2014,” because the City Council funding runs out. The unsteady funding stream is an alarming trend, the report notes:

The implementation of EarlyLearn must be seen in the larger context of the ongoing funding problems faced by the child care system. For some time, a significant portion of child care funding has been allocated on a one-year basis, creating an annual threat to the size of the system. As a result of the city’s continuing budget problems, in recent years the Mayor’s financial plans have frequently included proposed child care funding reductions.

The Administration of Children’s Services, which provided child care services to 96,000 children this year,  announced plans to overhaul its child care system in 2010 and has moved quickly to implement changes. In 2011, ACS required private child care providers to apply for new contracts with programs that promised to create a more standardized quality of care that are more aligned to the federal Head Start program, which serves about 18,000 children annually.

Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Speaker Christine Quinn said the Council would continue to work to sustain funds for the child care system.

“EarlyLearn is a vital program that many New Yorkers depend on and the Council will work with the Administration to sustain this program and others for years to come,” Goodman said.