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Watch: NYC mayoral candidate Maya Wiley on early education, youth programs

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The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Christina Veiga (0:00)  

Thank you for taking the time to do this. So I want to start with all of the federal attention that has been paid recently to early childhood education and Pre-K. There’s been a lot of talk now with the Biden family plan about the possibilities there. And so I would love to hear from you. And it’s really interesting, because we’re in this time where it looked like the city’s budget situation would look really dire. But now, we have an influx of money coming in. And so I’d love to hear from you how you would prioritize this influx of resources? Where would you build out? Where would you strengthen?

“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

Maya Wiley (0:37)  

Yeah, thank you. I’m so thrilled that the Biden Administration has ensured that New York is going to get 6 billion more dollars, including an additional $7 billion for our schools. And that matters a great deal. Because what we need to do, and what I’m going to prioritize, one, is bringing down class sizes. That’s critically important because for far too many of our kids, and we have you know, these numbers, Christina, we’ve got over 618 schools that are grossly overcrowded. That’s a deep impact to educational quality that we can’t afford. That’s also going to enable us to hire teachers that are more representative of our student body, which also helps increase educational opportunities and attainment. But I’m also going to make sure that we are getting a nurse in every school, so I’m gonna commit another $10 million to making sure we have a full time nurse in every single school. And we’re gonna have trauma informed care, because one of the things we should recognize, both about what this COVID pandemic has done to our people, and particularly to our children, is traumatizing. 31,000 folks who’ve lost their lives, but in communities of color, the vast majority of infections and deaths, have been in low income communities of color. Those same communities that have overcrowding, and far too often not enough resources in the schools. So I’m going to pay a lot of attention to that resourcing, but that trauma informed care means that we will bring violence down, and send graduation rates up. Recognizing the supports kids need. And those are three of the big ones.

Christina Veiga (2:25)

So that was a very Chalkbeat answer. I want to remind you, we’re focusing in on Pre-K, early education and youth services.

Maya Wiley (2:32)

Well, you start with you get about $7 billion. I get happy. Well, yeah, let’s talk first of all, I when we talk about early childhood, and what we need to do as a city. I mean, one, obviously, we have to focus on pay parity and quality. Because as we know, we now have resources. We have had an unfair and unequal pay system for DOE educators versus those who are in community based education facilities. We got to change that. We’ve got to support the resourcing for quality of program as well. I mean, we know that there has been segregation in the system, and some real quality issues, but that’s about supports. That’s about the ability both to make sure that we’re organizing, and structuring early childhood in the best ways, and the best educational ways. As well as being fair, fair to our staff, and to the people who work in early childcare. But I’ve also already laid out a plan even before these resources were coming into the city to take money from the from the New York City Police, bloated New York City Police Department budget, as well as the Department of Corrections, as well as the money that we’ve left on the table in terms of childcare block grants from the federal government to create care grants for families. Because childcare is one of the top costs of living in New York City along with housing, and health care. But for low income people, for the neediest, including people who are undocumented, you know, we haven’t provided enough support for care, including early childhood care. So those $5,000 annual grants are for care, either by supporting family members in the work that is caring for young children that is that is not remunerated, it’s unpaid work, or creating more resources for the families to pay for those children to be in other care have care provided for them. But we’re also going to create community care centers, you know, which will be drop off centers for child care as well as elder care, although that wasn’t the question, but you know, that really recognize the way care and caregiving has become such a tremendous burden. And the folks who will be eligible for the care grants will include undocumented immigrants by the way, as well as to drop off centers in the form of care centers. They will not discriminate based on immigration status. Because every last resident in the city deserves quality care for their family members.

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

Christina Veiga (5:06)  

Okay, so I want to dig in to your plan for care grants, and also the community care centers. So your plan, as far as I understand, it calls for 100,000 families to get up to $5,000 in grants that they could use for child care. Can you explain and you mentioned specifically, undocumented workers would be families would be eligible for these grants. But can you tell me a little bit more about how you would determine eligibility? And how would you ensure that families are using these grants on high quality care when they when they spend them?

Maya Wiley (5:40) 

So our community care grants, which are $5,000 grants to families that are needy, is going to be needs based. Right, that means that we’re going to come up with a formula that says who the neediest folks in New York City are, who otherwise have no resources available. You know, we’ve got folks who are going hungry, who are out of work. And as we know, with excluded workers, with undocumented immigrants, you know, were not eligible for any of the relief dollars that came from through the federal government through the state. And fortunately, the state budget now has some more resources for that. But you know, they are care grants. I mean, we are giving them to families in order to care for themselves, and their family members. We’re creating the drop off centers as a place where they can get quality care in the community. So these may be supplements that families use, but we’re recognizing that families know best how best to serve the needs of their children, including if a mother wants to stay home with their child. You know, poor women should get to be moms. And that is something that I feel very strongly about as a mother. And that we know in the time of COVID, I talked to women, particularly women who are undocumented immigrants, who were struggling to make sure they could take care of their children because they wanted to keep them safe at home. And being in a position where you have to choose between an ability to eat or care for your child. That’s something no mother, or parent should face. So we trust parents to make the best decisions for their children. But the Community Care Centers, the drop off centers we’re going to create are also going to be a high quality care option available to them.

Caroline Bauman (7:29)  

There’s a backlog of families waiting to receive vouchers to help pay for care, even while seats and center and community care centers are going empty. What’s your understanding of what’s causing this problem? And how would you fix it?

Maya Wiley (7:45)  

You know, first of all, a big part of fixing problems in government, generally. Well, let me back up because you want me to answer the question. You know, this issue of vouchers for families for care, is critically important. An important thing to know about fixing problems in government, is it starts with having leadership that both understands the programs, and actually works and partners who is working backwards from where it’s getting stuck. I actually don’t know where it’s getting stuck. And it’s important to have anyone who’s in government to acknowledge when they don’t, or else they come up with ideas to fix things, without having any sense of what fixes it for real. And so one is, I think, adequate resourcing that makes it easy to get the vouchers, as well as pay for them. And so often what we do, is we create so many hurdles, and so many different ways that families have to enroll for get access, that are next to impossible for them to manage the process. One of the things we’re going to do with Community Care Centers, in communities that will also have care available in the centers, is we’re going to co-locate them with other community based organizations, service providers, but also government agencies that are client facing. So that it is easier for families to navigate everything they should be getting, from government. From food stamps, to welfare benefits, to Women, Infants & Children Program (WIC), to any kinds of vouchers that they’re entitled to. And it’s a big resource to have a one stop shop center that starts to streamline how that’s done, and makes it easier for families to navigate.

Christina Veiga (9:33)  

So, many families with young children rely on programs that provide a longer day during the school day, and also a longer year of care during the summer. Providers say that more of these extended day and extended school year slots are needed. Do you think there should be universal access to extended day, and year round care in preschool?

Maya Wiley (9:55)  

You know, I do. Because I’m a mom and I have been there. Right? And what so often happens is you’re finding ways to supplement, if you can, you know what kind of care you need. The problem becomes, so many of our families don’t have the resources to do it. And that either means that folks are foregoing paychecks, they can’t afford to lose because they have no choice, or relying on, if they’re lucky, other family members or neighbors, you know, who can fill that gap. And it’s, it is a deep injustice, not to provide the kind of supports that both enable families to work, or go to see a doctor, or do any of the other things they have to do, and know that children are safe, sound, and also enriched, getting stimulated, and supported, and social emotional learning, and play. And so a big part of what we need to do is also resource the supports, for ensuring, that we’re increasing the quality of care as well. So I don’t think we want to decouple those two things. We want more access to longer hours, more time. But we also want to make sure, it’s really meeting all of the emotional needs of our kids. We’ve got to get play back in there, because it’s actually a critically important part of learning, social, emotional, but also, it’s of educational benefit. And we have to stop denying our kids that.

Christina Veiga (11:27)  

So the early childhood workforce is predominantly women of color. They’re among the lowest paid workers in the city. You’ve touched on this a little bit. There has been some headway on salary parity for teachers and community based Pre-K centers. But issues like longevity have yet to be addressed. And also teachers in special education centers are still being paid significantly less. So what is your plan for reaching salary parity? And do you have a timeframe in which you’d like to see that happen?

“Does Biden’s plan for a $15 minimum wage for child care workers go far enough?” by Ann Schimke, Cassie Walker Burke, and Koby Levin

Maya Wiley (11:56)  

So salary parity is an extremely important issue for me as a civil rights lawyer, and as a woman, and as a black woman. So we’ve got to get it done. I mean, the truth is that that means we need more resources that we now have an opportunity to recognize that investing in pay parity, is also going to be economically stimulative to a city that needs to recover, because we’re putting more money in the pockets of people who will spend it on supporting themselves and their own families. And so I am going to create a plan for parity. It is something that I want to happen within the first two years of my administration. Quicker, if possible, but within two years, and I will say that it also is going to include partnering with the federal government. Because we do have a real opportunity now with the Biden Administration, and including Headstart to figure out how we’re doing that more successfully. But we will, we will, bring up the pay for all our providers. But the other thing I want to say is, we’ve got to also remember how many childcare providers were small business owners, and who have been decimated in the context of COVID. And so looking at this also from a small business standpoint, for small business services to better support caregiving as small businesses, is also going to be a really important part of our economic recovery, and our racial justice and gender justice and fairness. Because that’s who those business owners are, and that’s who got decimated in this crisis.

Christina Veiga (13:35)  

So after school, and summer programming are really important for working families. And they’ve provided really crucial services during shutdowns as well during the pandemic. At the same time, a lot of these services are trapped in what providers call a budget dance where every year they have to fight for their budget. So are there any programs that you think should be funded more permanently beyond these one year allocations? And if so, Which ones?

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

Maya Wiley (14:00)  

Well, certainly, we might. So let me go back to repeat your question. It is a deep problem that services for young people are so often budgeted annually, making it very difficult for service providers to provide good, strong and quality programming. What I have already committed to do in my gun violence prevention platform is double the number of summer youth employment in communities hard hit by violent crimes, particularly gun violence. These, by the way, are the same communities where the unemployment rates are well above the city and national averages, particularly for young people. And we should remember that we must make it easier to get a job than a gun in our communities for our young people. So that’s my commitment, and that’s going to be a multi year commitment. We also need more after school programs, right, for all our youth. And one of the things I will be looking at is how we do something that Mayor David Dinkins did, right, which is open our school buildings and see them as community centers available for programming all year long. And that means also supporting the community based programs that deliver those kinds of services and programs for young people after school, and throughout the year. So that’s what I’m going to work on as mayor, both with the Department of Education, but also with the Department of Youth Services, because a big part of it is the programming dollars that come out of these different agencies that we need to streamline, and support, and look at in three year budget cycles, in order to ensure that we’re building and growing them appropriately, and in ways that are meeting the needs of our kids.

Christina Veiga (15:51)  

So I want to zoom out a little bit since this might be our last question. The city is planning right now to reopen school buildings for the next school year. And the big question is, how many families are going to want to come back? So what do you think the city needs to be doing right now to build trust with families and have more students come back next year?

“No remote learning option for NYC next school year, de Blasio announces” by Amy Zimmer and Alex Zimmerman

Maya Wiley (16:17)  

You know, it is critical that that city government build trust with our parents and our students in order to get them back in school. And that is a trust that was eroded. Because we had a city government that was not communicating effectively, and was too often flip flopping on decision making. And what I would do as mayor, one is be very transparent about the information about the safety of schools. And that includes partnering with community based organizations to do that. I’ll give you an a really great example on vaccines, and vaccine penetration. I was in a church in Harlem. And the pastor was a very popular pastor, very important church. And he gave a sermon. And by the end of the sermon, he was actually talking about his own vaccine process, and how he had gotten a second vaccine. And he made a joke of all the fear that people had about getting sick, and making it clear that he was quite well. And in fact, the only side effect he had was he got really hungry and ate all day and all night. And the church laughed, and you just feel the release of stress. But he was a credible messenger, a trusted messenger. And it’s really important that, in addition to communicating clearly and effectively out of the Department of Education, and out of City Hall, is to recognize our partnerships with faith based leaders, community based service providers, all of the people who are so important and trusted in communities that are afraid of coming back. And I do mean communities of color, because as we saw, it was black and Latino communities, most fearful about sending kids back into schools, and no surprise, having had the highest infection rates, and the lowest vaccine penetration originally as the vaccine was being rolled out. But also with, you know, a lot of history of being lied to, frankly, and that’s not the I know, I’m not talking about the, I’m talking historically. So that there the trust factors are real and long term and have been existing for a long time. But that means the city government has to work in partnership. And that’s transparency, both about what the research and science says. It’s transparency about the conditions in the schools, and COVID rates. Its transparency about the vaccine itself and the benefits to getting it I’ve been double vaccine, I’ve made sure to post on Twitter, both my first shot and my second shot, just as a way to model that as a black woman, I trust the vaccine, and I’m fine and well. And that is the kind of leadership that is going to start helping to restore trust, but also because it has to listen to the concerns and fears that people have, in order to better be responsive to it rather than just talking at people saying, tell us more, like, what would make you feel comfortable? What is it that you need to know? What is it that we haven’t told you that might be helpful for you making the decision? Because so much of it is about relationship. That’s how we build trust. And I am someone, as a civil rights attorney, and as a coalition builder, that is always worked that way. And it’s one of the ways I love to work.

Christina Veiga (19:37)  

And just want to point out you mentioned that Black and Latino families are the least likely to return to buildings actually Asian families are.

Maya Wiley (19:44)  

Well Asian too, for the same reasons though, right? And particularly in terms of how hard COVID hit, and where it hit. I mean just look at what happened in Queens, which had the highest number of COVID rates and the fewest number of hospital beds. So you know, the costs have just been very high. And I appreciate you remind me to say Asian and Pacific Islander, because that’s extremely important. But the costs of this pandemic have fallen disproportionately in infections, in deaths, in job losses, and trauma, on communities of color. While it has traumatized all of us, it has hit certain neighborhoods the hardest, and we should not be surprised. The parents want to protect themselves, and their families, and their kids. And so it’s incumbent upon us to acknowledge those things in order to rebuild trust.

Christina Veiga (20:35)  

There, I know, you probably have to run, but I do want to give you the opportunity to touch on anything else that we haven’t been able to talk about in case you think we’ve missed anything. And just for me, personally, I feel like I don’t totally understand the community care centers, and how you’re going to serve everyone from seniors to children. And like well, ages of young people you’d be serving so, I don’t know if you want to talk more about that.

Maya Wiley (20:57)  

So thank you for that question. So you know, the Community Care Center model is fundamentally a drop off center model. And it will be community based. And we will start with the neediest families in terms of eligibility, but we will be sure that they are union jobs in good jobs, and that we are partnering with and co-locating with other supports and services. So that, for example, we can expand the number of people who can be served. So that we have a panoply of services. But a big part of the opportunity here is to lean into this opportunity to rethink how we’re doing care, and start to create these particularly in the communities that have the greatest need. So that we’re actually starting to serve the people who need care who’ve been caring for us, and also restore jobs in the care economy. Because remember, it’s also women of color that have been care workers, who’ve had the greatest job losses in COVID. So we’re also creating more employment opportunities for those women in caregiving. But the reality is, we’re going to build it starting in those hard hit communities, and starting based on an eligibility that is needs based. To start to meet the needs of the neediest, and make sure we’re taking care of those who otherwise would not have other opportunities or services.

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