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Watch: NYC mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia on early education, youth programs

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The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Kathryn Garcia (0:00) 

I’m Kathryn Garcia. I’m a lifelong New Yorker, I love this city. And I’m running for New York City Mayor to make it a more livable place for our families.

Christina Veiga (0:10)  

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. We have lots of folks who really care about early education. And so we’re glad to make this a part of the conversation in the race. So diving right into it, were expecting an influx of federal resources, focusing on early education and childcare issues. And so the first question I have for you is: how would you prioritize using more money to build and strengthen the system that we have now? There are lots of decisions to be made about expansion versus maybe quality improvements in what we already have? So how are you thinking about investing those resources?

“Unprecedented federal funding is on the way. High-poverty schools are starting to reckon with how to spend it.” by Matt Barnum and Kalyn Belsha

Kathryn Garcia (0:51)  

The American rescue plan is going to be a game changer for Americans across the country, and for families, because one of the hardest thing for any family is having the resources for really strong early childhood care, and education. And my priority has been that we need to ensure that for those who make less than $70,000, that they have free childcare available from zero to three. Because we know these are sort of the most critical times for brain development, and we need every kid ready for school. But it also fundamentally, is about families and being able to go to work. And particularly for women, we know that one-in-four women has stepped back from work, because they couldn’t manage the pandemic, and work and childcare.

Christina Veiga (1:55)  

I want to dig in a little deeper into your plan for free childcare for children from now you’re saying birth to three? Right? I think your website says one to three. So that’s good to know. Because currently, I think services start at six weeks. So you would start it as soon as birth?

Kathryn Garcia (2:11)  

Yeah. We want to give mom a little bit of a chance to bond but yes.

Christina Veiga (2:17)  

Okay, so good to know. Okay, so your plan calls for free childcare, for children from Zero to Three, for families making less than $70,000 a year, how much capacity would be needed for that? And where and how would you add it? We have a system that is very fragmented with, you know, community based organizations, public schools, that sort of thing.

Kathryn Garcia (2:40)  

Yes, the early childhood has not been, I’d say a social priority in this country where it is in many other countries. And when you look at this, we have to be able to accommodate what parents choices are going to be. So there are parents who are going to want a more family daycare system, or they are going to want more, DOE like systems or they’re going to want more of a Montessori type system. And we have to build out the plan to make sure that we are accommodating all of that choice. And this means that not only are we going to build capacity, as the government, but also thinking about how do you ensure that there are just vouchers for people to be used at what we already have, and that we are ensuring that those are continuing to strengthen as we move forward. And so it is a plan that is multi pronged and needs to move forward in a way that ensures that we are working with families to get them what they need. And so I know that that this is going to be challenging, it is always challenging, rolling out new programs. But we’re really excited about getting to start that on day one.

Christina Veiga (4:00)  

So you mentioned vouchers, there’s a backlog of families waiting to get approval for vouchers, income certification, that sort of thing. And meanwhile, providers say that they have slots that are going empty. So I’d love to hear: what is your diagnosis of what the problem is there? And how would you solve that?

Kathryn Garcia (4:18)  

There there is a real challenge with getting vouchers that we currently have into the hands of people who need it, so that they can actually fill up the vacant slots that are available today. This is just government bureaucracy run amok. And I find this over and over again, particularly on the social services side. We don’t think about the person or the family. Like, as like, what is the outcome we want to see? We want that family to be strong. So what do they need? Do they need a voucher? Do they need you know, help finding a job? Do they need a help finding affordable housing? And really putting it all together into a package. So you’re not going agency to agency. But this is just creating barriers to a service that we want people to have.

Christina Veiga (5:16)  

And what does removing those barriers look like? Do you have any specific ideas?

Kathryn Garcia (5:22)  

So why did you need to get income certified and every single moment when you’re interacting with the government? When we probably already know what your income is. That we should use the information that we already have, to make it so that we can fill in most of what this is, and turn, make it so that you can turn the timing really quickly, to get the work done. And so that we’re not spending our time filling out forms, but spending our time making sure a kid is in that early childhood placement.

Christina Veiga (5:58)  

So it sounds like streamlining, not making people answer the same question lots of different times over and over again.

Kathryn Garcia (6:06)  

Over and over.

Christina Veiga (6:07)  

When it comes to accessibility. A lot of working families rely on programs that go beyond the normal school day and school year. Providers say that there are not enough of these slots, though. So do you have an opinion on whether there are enough extended school day in school year slots, or whether that should be universal? And if we do need to expand, how much, what would that look like?

Kathryn Garcia (6:36)  

So in this particular moment of COVID, when we know that there is real educational need. And we have people who are trying to make a living and come back, early childhood, and actually just regular school aged kid, after school programs and summer programs are absolutely critical. Obviously, this changes from a young kid to an older kid, where we might be talking much more about an internship. And this is where the American rescue plan money can actually be helpful. In terms of using it to expand the number of slots, catch people up, we have so many really fabulous nonprofits who do a lot of this work already. But ensuring that it is more universally available, it had been available to all middle school children. But not available to all elementary and then obviously High School is is a sort of different model, I would say. And this is where I really look to places like here to here, which is doing braided learning, and introducing work experience into the high school experience. So that kids really have an idea about what the work world will look like and why they want to make sure that, if that’s what direction you want to go in, that you’re able to pursue your dreams through higher education.

Christina Veiga (8:04)  

What about for preschool and, and childcare, specifically? There are programs that offer extended day and extended school year. Do you think those should be universally available?

Kathryn Garcia (8:15)  

Oh, no, those need to be available to anyone who who needs it to support them being able to go to work. You know, that is primarily the role of those, and certainly, it is something that I leaned on when I had very young children.

Christina Veiga (8:33)  

Turning to the workforce in the early education sector. We know that the early education workforce is predominantly women, predominantly women of color. The city has made strides in raising salaries so that there is something more approaching parity to teachers in the public school system and in the K-12 system. However, teachers in Special Education Programs are still making significantly less, and teachers who have been in community based programs for a long time, there are no longevity or seniority plans to catch those teachers up. So what is your plan to address salary salary equity in early childcare and education space and do you have a timeline for that?

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Kathryn Garcia (9:20)  

So this is this is where you know we have not as a society treated childcare is actually something that was a valuable work experience, and systematically paid, usually women, less for doing that most critical work. And this is where you have to sit down, many of them actually do have union representation, to make it so that there is a pathway towards equity on salary. This is about ensuring also that we are getting the quality we need in early childhood. educators. And so, I am a big believer in making sure that we are creating a more equitable environment for everyone. So that everyone can thrive.

Christina Veiga (10:12)  

So it sounds like this is on your radar, and an issue that you want to work on. But do you have the timeline to do that in, or any idea of what it would take to get there.

Kathryn Garcia (10:22)  

You have to sit down with the union, and go through, step-by-step what those, how you do that. There are ways to do equity adjustments within the framework of pattern bargaining, but it has to be done at the table.

Christina Veiga 10:42  

So we touched a little bit on after school and summer programming, which are really important for working families and have been a lifesaver for a lot of families now with lots of school shutdowns due to COVID cases, that sort of thing. But at the same time, a lot of these services are trapped in what advocates called the “budget dance” where it’s yearly, something that they have to fight for yearly. So are there programs that you think should be permanently funded that are not currently funded? And if so, which ones aren’t they?

“NYC official: Funding for summer jobs program expected to increase, following year of steep cuts?” by Reema Amin

Kathryn Garcia (11:15)  

No, I would actually say this. So the question here is permanently funded versus not permanently funded. Nothing to do with whether it’s these or anything else, nothing is ever permanent, unless you actually do it every year. And I have been on the cutting room floor on programs that I thought were permanent. So this is where it is an ongoing commitment that you need to be making. So that we are having a budget that reflects our values. And that we have a budget that we know we need to go upstream and make investments in people, and particularly our children, so that they can thrive in the future. Otherwise, you pay for it in the long term. People don’t do well in their careers, you know, parents have trouble getting to work. So this is where it needs to be something that we fundamentally all agree on, needs to get funded every single year. And this is also about working with the private sector. You know, one thing that often has been, I would sort of a bit of a political football has been summer youth employment. We need to be working with the private sector, as well, to make sure that there are paid internships for high school students.

Christina Veiga (12:42)  

I wanted to ask specifically about Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Do you think there are enough seats? And if not, what do we need to get to?

Kathryn Garcia (12:52)  

So I think that we need to make sure that it is available to anyone who wants it, but that we also are doing this in a way where we are engaging, not only in the nonprofit sector, but also in the private sector. To get there, we need to make sure there are paid internships so that people have real experience, and particularly for those who are going to actually there have to make their own money to pay for their education or have to make their own money to help their families. We can’t just have it so that internships are something that you need to be able that are free, that you’re you’re using free labor, we need to make sure that these are paid, thoughtful opportunities for our youth.

Christina Veiga (13:39)  

I want to ask a kind of big picture question. We’ve seen enrollment in New York City public schools dip. We’ve seen that Pre-K has had an especially big drop, I think it’s around 13% this year, understanding that you’re not going to be the mayor leading up to this next school year: what do you think the city could or should be doing right now to build confidence among families to send their kids back to school?

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Kathryn Garcia (14:13)  

The city has seen a significant dip in enrollment for next, for the next school year. You know, my biggest concern is not only people having confidence in the public school system, but also my concern is we’ve lost track of kids that they’re not somewhere else that they haven’t chosen a different school, but they are just not in school at all. And you know, when we think about what has happened to kids over this last year, and parents, oh goodness gracious parents, trying to manage zoom school and openings and closings and the the two positive requirement, and then it is been really so incredibly challenging for them. That is a loss of confidence, they need to know that you will be consistently there to educate their child. And the back and forth between Zoom and not Zoom, or what I find even possibly worse is “Zoom in the room” where you go to school, but you still do Zoom. That is, I find really, really problematic. Schools need to open strongly this Fall. Kids need to be back in their classrooms. There needs to be consistency. There needs to be more clarity, there cannot be this open, close every other second. It just doesn’t work. I mean, as a working mom, it was hard to balance in non-COVID times, school and work, and making sure you got the lunches done in the morning. This is where we need them to be as good as some of the other people who provide education have been better at. I mean, I just, you know, the Catholic schools opened and stayed open, for the entire year. We should have been able to do that.

Christina Veiga (16:20)  

Are there things specifically that you think the city needs to communicate or change around, for example, its closure protocols, or its scheduling for next year that parents need to hear now, to know that they’ll have that consistency next year?

Kathryn Garcia (16:37)  

They need to have have a very clear plan that shows that they’re going to be open for business as usual. But with additional support for kids coming back from in some cases, perhaps more than a year of remote learning. So that they are going to be in vibrant school communities again, has to be something that we say we are absolutely committed to making that happen. Because otherwise, we will lose so much of these children’s life. What I realize is that, you know, my six-year-old niece has spent more than 20% of her life in a pandemic. That is completely bananas. And there’s so much that she has not had an opportunity to do, and learn. And you know, she’s super smart. She’s, I’m sure she’ll be fine. But, she really needs interaction with other little kids. She needs to be sitting there thinking about how what am I what are the letter sound like? So it is it is she’s got to have a strong first grade year next year. That’s got to happen.

Christina Veiga (18:05)  

So my last question is, segregation in the K-12 space is getting a lot of attention in New York City Schools, but Pre-K classrooms are also very starkly segregated. And I’m wondering if you think there’s anything in particular the city could or should be doing to address that in early education?

“Racial, economic gaps are widening among NYC’s free pre-K programs, researchers say” by Christina Veiga

Kathryn Garcia (18:25)  

Well, I have said from the beginning that we should not have four-year-olds taking a test for gifted and talented. And we need to make it so that every classroom is available to every kid, and that there shouldn’t, you should be wanting to go to your local elementary school. You know, I didn’t think about where I was going to send my kids, I just sent them up the block. Because I knew that I was like, this is a good school, they’ll be fine. And then I think as you think about it as going into obviously Middle School, things change. But there’s no reason we should have, real segregation at that young a level because it’s also, in many cases, not even geographically focused. You know, they’re big pods of preschool classrooms, like all in one building. Because that’s the way it rolled out. But this is where we need to make sure that we are giving everyone equal access to the preschool of their choice.

Christina Veiga (19:36)  

So I want to give you the chance to touch on anything that maybe we haven’t discussed specific in the early education, childcare, aftercare world. Is there anything that you think it’s really important that people know about?

Kathryn Garcia (19:50)  

I think this is going to be a really challenging year for all of our kids. And our littlest kids. Need to make sure that they are having an incredibly enriched experience, and that they have art, and music, and theater, and sports, and dance available to them so that we are educating the whole child, and engaging with that whole child across a broad array of interests. Because there’s been so much isolation, that being out in the world and having that social interaction, may end up feeling a little shocking to the system, and we need to do everything as grownups, to support them, moving forward.

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