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Watch: NYC mayoral candidate Scott Stringer on early education, youth programs

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The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Christina Veiga (0:00)  

Okay, so thank you for taking the time to do this. I know that you’ve been talking about these issues for a long time. We’re going to be focusing on on Pre-K, early education, child care, and also after school, and other youth services like summer programming. So I want to start off with a big picture question, which is that, there is a lot more federal attention, and resources being paid to early childhood education and care. So how would you prioritize the funds that are going to be coming into New York City? What parts of the system? Would you, for example, expand and build out? And where would you invest to strengthen and improve what we already have?

“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

Scott Stringer (0:44)  

It makes sense that there is now a serious federal discussion about childcare, and early education. Everybody knows the statistics don’t lie. I mean, zero to three is where 80% of brain development occurs in a child. And while the success of Pre-K, Three - K have addressed early education needs, I think New York City should be prepared to lead the nation in implementing the largest universal childcare plan in the country. And the way to do that is to look at how do we get it done in my NYC Under Three plan is about making sure that we have the funds available to do the expansion. And we have that now there’s $2.4 billion coming from the federal government. But we also have other plans, whether it’s to increase the payroll taxes of the wealthiest companies. The point is, we have to generate the financial infrastructure, and then we need to build out to do two things: we either have to create more space, and close the childcare deserts, and we have to make sure that as we triple the number of kids that could receive subsidized childcare, we have to make sure that we fund that as well. I have a five-year plan that would build this out, as you know, and look, we can’t open reopen the same way we closed. Part of the reason why we need childcare. So people, mostly women, mostly women of color can get back into the workforce. The choice of staying home with the child, and not having a career, is just long overdue for change. And we can do that now coming out of this pandemic.

Christina Veiga (2:22)  

So I want to focus on Pre-K and childcare. So the city has obviously made strides in making Pre-K available to to more children, but affordable infant and toddler care can still be really hard to come by, very expensive. There is currently a backlog of families who are waiting to receive vouchers to help them pay for care. And meanwhile, centers say that they have spots that are empty. So what’s your diagnosis of where the problem lies there? And how would you fix it?

Scott Stringer (2:55)  

Look, ask any family, you either can’t find childcare space, or you can’t afford it. The city only has enough licensed childcare slots for about 6% of the New York City infants. So costs, this is very critical to overcome, and access. And we’ve done the analysis in my office about where the childcare deserts are. There are 10 neighborhoods, including Bushwick, and Sunnyside, Woodside. These are neighborhoods that suffered badly for lack of childcare investment. So we have to use the NYC Under Three plan. As a way of building out that infrastructure. I do think our Pre-K and Three - K model works. Because we were able to close those deserts, we were able to bring childcare to, Pre-K to communities, through community based organizations, the Department of Education, the same process must be used again. And one of the things that I think we have to think about is under NYC Under Three, we need to spend $500 million capital commitment to over five years to create more centers, and more renovations for home based care. This is our next challenge because if we can get zero to three, right, we can then ramp up a new education plan for the post-pandemic kids who very much need it.

Christina Veiga (4:14)  

Do you have any thoughts about the voucher landscape right now and how to make sure that families are able to access those and that centers are able to enroll children.

Scott Stringer (4:24)

The voucher aspect of this is critical. I think we have to streamline this bureaucracy. I think we have to also identify with those vouchers, and how they can be used. But what I would say to you is the the challenge here right now is to do something much bigger. And so, make sure that we basically commit to every parent who does not have economic means, we have to commit that we will find the child care, zero to three that they need. And so this part of my mayoral platform is, yes, to manage the voucher system well, to identify where those vouchers need to go. But we also know that, under voucher programs, there’s a lot of federal requirements. There’s a lot of challenges to it. A massive expansion of childcare is, how we, I think, satisfy the demand.

Christina Veiga (5:13)  

So, while you’re working on that, many working families rely on child care that goes beyond the school day, and beyond the school year, extended day, extended care, especially in Pre-K. But providers say that there are not enough of those seats. So do you think that there should be universal access to extended school day, and extended school year, specifically in the early education space?

Scott Stringer (5:40)  

I think right now, we have to have equal aftercare after school and daycare for our kids. And the truth is, the people who get that daycare or after school programs are parents like myself, who have the ability to put down a credit card and look for existing program, find a new program, and pay for it without batting an eye. And so, for a certain segment of the parent population, even in the public schools, the system is working. What I worry about is the kids who come from public housing, don’t have internet access, the kids who are homeless, the kids who come from single family homes. There’s no way that their parents can afford any of this. And we need to bring our community based organizations to the forefront and expand this day camp and other recreational programs. We know that community based organizations (CBOs) are already staffed with social workers. But there’s a pressure point because they can’t expand because of finances, and their own capacity. And we need to leverage different relationships we have in the city, through procurement, through other means, to get them into a place where they can serve more people.

Christina Veiga (6:54)  

I want to turn to the workforce, the early childhood education workforce is predominantly women, many of them women of color. And they also tend to be among the lowest paid workers in the city. We have seen some progress on that in Pre-K centers, and community based organizations (CBOs). But there’s still issues like longevity pay, you know, some of these teachers have been working in community based organizations (CBOs) for a long, long time, and aren’t compensated for that experience. And also, Special Education, Pre-K teachers have largely been left out of this conversation. So what is your plan for achieving salary parity? And what’s your timeframe for getting it done?

“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

Scott Stringer (7:31)

You know, we, as parents, leave our kids, our children, our babies, with providers, and we ask them to care for them, to nurture them, to literally feed them, to keep them safe. When you leave, when I left my little Max and Miles at the daycare center, the childcare center, I mean, I thought about it all day long. You know, I hoped that the person who will be taking care of them was someone who had credentials, and passion for the work. And I learned very quickly that there’s nothing like childcare workers, because they have a tremendous responsibility. How this city, treats them financially, the way they do, is absolutely unacceptable, and unsustainable. I want to make this profession, the profession it is, by providing the resources and this pay parity that we desperately need to do. We need to continue to attract workers, if we’re going to expand childcare. If we can’t have the workforce, we can’t expand. So for me, one of the top priorities will be as mayor to implement a massive pay parity plan to get the workers the resources they need. Because think about this, they give our children back to us at the end of the day. And then, they go home, and take care of their own kids, and grandkids. And they’re having trouble paying the rent, or providing for their child’s future. This is not sustainable in the greatest city on Earth. Now, how can we do this? Look we won in Georgia. Biden became president. We’re coming out of a pandemic. We have buckets of money. We have childcare money. We have other infrastructure money coming. The next mayor has got to build capacity to get this expansion done. I’m less concerned about how to pay for it as I am about how to implement it. And one of the ways that I’ve learned how to implement is not to do it top down. I’ve had meetings throughout the city with childcare workers, local community based organizations, parents, the people who are in the centers, they know how to do this, and implement it in communities. And as mayor, I will look at all of the childcare deserts, I will look at all the places that we need implementation. There’s 10 neighborhoods that are literally childcare deserts, but there’s a whole lot of communities that would love to act as either home base, or other ways of going into a facility, if there was an opportunity to do that, and that’s going to be my priority as mayor,

Christina Veiga (10:10)  

How quickly do you think you might be able to achieve pay parity?

Scott Stringer (10:14)  

we’re going to go right in on day one. We’re going to bring everybody to the table, and we’re going to fight in the city budget. I will make it a budget ask in the first budget that I put forth as mayor, and then we’re going to continue to stick to it. We cannot keep the people who are taking care of the most special things in our lives cannot be paid as if they’re, you know, taking care of, you know, someone’s lunch. This is an this is an incredible opportunity, one, to provide quality childcare, to our kids, we now know if they get it, they will be much more ahead in life. But to get quality childcare, you get what you pay for. And on behalf of the children, and the providers, pay parity seems like a weak word to me. Because what we really should be talking about is creating professionalism, creating career advancement, in the biggest expansion of childcare in the city’s history that I will implement, and it’s all written out. You know, we have come to terms with the fact that 24% of childcare workers live in poverty. And when you look at my NYC Under Three plan, parity is actually built into the plan. It’s not an afterthought, you can’t go forward unless you do it.

Christina Veiga (11:32)  

And who are we including in this? Because part of the problem here is that the early childhood system is so fragmented. You have community organizations, you have the state helping to pay for Special Education, Pre-K, you have school based centers. So who are we talking about here?

Scott Stringer (11:49)  

Well, we have to we have to level the playing field, there is a two-tiered system of early childhood education in the city. And that I think, is unsustainable. We have to look at how Pre-K and Three-K were flawed in the sense that they were built on the backs of providers without providing parity for the contracted workers. So that has to be fixed in our next rollout. And the reality is that contracted programs make up 60% of all the Pre-K seats in New York, but are constantly funded at lower level rates than fully public Pre-K option. So Pre-K is so critical. I commend Mayor de Blasio for it, but we have a guidepost as to how we can bring parity faster and closer to an expansion of childcare.

Christina Veiga (12:36)

So I want to shift to after school and summer programming, which like extended school day, and school year options, are really important for working families. But the providers who provide these services say that every year they’re trapped in a “budget dance” where they have to fight for the funding to do this. So would you want to end this “budget dance” which programs if any, would you like to see have more permanent sustainable funding in the long term?

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

Scott Stringer (13:02)  

I mentioned this earlier, but I want to go back to this after school is mostly or a lot for the kids whose parents have resources. And as a parent, I have taken advantage of those resources because I can pay for it. My wife and I have the financial means. But it also speaks to the issue of how long the child goes to school. Because whether you’re paying for robotics, or chess, or athletics, it’s part of the learning of your child. And right now, certain parents have a school year, or certain kids have a school year, from 8:40 in the morning, to five o’clock when after school ends. And other kids who do not have financial resources and 2:40 or 2:30, and up on the couch, only because, it’s impossible for some parents to pay the rent, let alone provide the child that they love the most with the things that the kid needs. So this is going to be my mantra as mayor: if my kid gets chess, every kid gets chess, if I my kid gets robotics, every kid gets robotics. After school, and sports, and athletics, everybody has to have one tier of care, and opportunity. I propose $200 million in this budget going forward, to make sure that we have equalized child after school programming, and that we make it available and make the community based organizations available to ramp up, step up, and make sure that no child will be left without a robust after school program. To do anything less is just a disservice, and I think creates an unequal education, especially in communities of color, and we’ve covered it up for too long. And as to the “budget dance,” you know, I know a little bit about this budget dance watching it as comptroller commenting on it, sometimes criticizing it. We’re going to baseline $200 million in the budget every year for after school. So there’s no longer going to be in doubt about who gets what, and who has the best lobbyists, and who has the best connections. It’s just going to be equal. And that’s how the only way to go forward, and you know, have, when you think about our childcare plan, and our after school plan, or teach residency plan, or two teacher plan, I am talking about a massive $1 billion investment into the school system. But I also want you to know, as comptroller, I found the money, I know how we can pay for it. So this is not one of those empty campaign promises, that when you win, activist groups, and advocates come and say, “hey, remember what he said, Let’s go, he wrote it down, we have them on video,” and you can’t get in the front door, because this is going to be paid.

Christina Veiga (15:44)  

It sounded like you’re suggesting universal after school care, universal programs is that the case?

Scott Stringer (15:52)  

We’re never going to lift up all of our children unless we stop being incrementalist. We are at a moment with the pandemic where we can’t afford to do things the incremental way, the time for change is here with us. And what I’m delivering for, not just the voters, but for advocates, is a detailed plan, a detailed education plan, that speaks to a couple of real goals with money attached. We have to do our childcare expansion, it’s time for universal childcare. It’s time to put two teachers in every classroom in public schools, K to five. Because what we’ve learned in private schools, and charter schools, and in wealthy Parent Association schools, when you put two teachers in the classroom, things happen, magic happens, equal education happens, more tutoring happens. And that’s something that we have to realize as well, that’s $300 million. And we can put pay for that, as well. So you then start thinking about how we get the system to be fundamentally different. When people have asked me as well, if you’re going to expand all this, who’s going to do the teaching, just like we talked about who’s going to do the childcare, and I propose a teacher residency program, the likes we’ve never seen, because we’re losing 40% of our teachers after five years, because there isn’t professional development. They don’t see this as a long term career. But we know from other municipalities is that when you have a residency program, when you give a teacher a stipend in her, let her or him, his, last year of schooling, to work with a mentor teacher, to make that part of the curriculum, that teacher becomes quickly integrated into the system. Otherwise, teachers get two weeks of training. They get thrown into the classroom, and they’re great. But why do we have to treat their profession like this? We would never do that to a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, or any other professions that we have. So a teacher residency program, under our administration would attract 1,000 teachers a year, we would pay the stipend, then we would start building our bench, the next generation of teachers. And that’s what we have to do to make this entire plan work.

Christina Veiga (17:59)  

So the next mayor will take office about midway through the next school year. But I would love to hear your thoughts about what the city can and should be doing right now to get buy in from families to make sure that they return. We’ve seen that in Pre-K, there’s been a significant drop in enrollment, we’ve seen that families of colors have been very reluctant to return back to buildings. So what needs to be done now to build that trust for next school year?

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Scott Stringer (18:29) 

Well, I know that first and foremost, parents want consistency, and they want certainty. And they also want their questions answered in real time. I believe that the pandemic has showed the cracks in the system. We certainly did not have enough resources to keep teachers and faculty safe. We have to make that massive investment, because the one thing we know is, we just never know what’s going to come our way. But we also need to make sure, that we’re doing the outreach to parents when answering questions. And right now, not when the mayor takes office, the next mayor, we need to prepare our kids for the post pandemic reality of mental health issues, which I feel is really coming. We have a lot of kids who lost their moms and dads, they were frontline workers. Who’s going to be talking to them when they get back to school? I know my own two little kids lost their grandmother. There’s really been no closure. In fact, the person who my son confided in, was his teacher. During the pandemic, he just wanted someone to talk to, my other child who I thought was not as impacted by his grandmother’s death from COVID, just one day he was on a Zoom call, and started to burst into tears, and we rushed to see him said “Miles why are you crying?” and “grandma,” right in the middle of, right in the middle of a Zoom, right? Remote learning. He just, it just hit him, 10 months later, and, but here we have two parents rushing to his side. We have kids who watch their dad, their mom, I mean, we have to do that as well. So I think if we can continue to work on safety issues, and not everything. You know, it’s easy to say to a teacher, “yeah, just walk into the classroom.” You need to show the teacher, and the janitor, and the, you know, the safety officer that the place is safe. We’re doing that in our office facility workers. Second, you must make sure that we have services that our kids are going to need, that perhaps they didn’t need as much as they did. I think we need to put 2,300 social workers into schools, we should start doing that now. This is the only way we’re going to get schools open. But I’m, look, it’s time to open, it’s time to open in a safe way. And when we open we’re going to have new challenges in education for our kids. And lastly, let me say in terms of academics. You know, there are kids who are going to need extra tutoring. Remember, a lot of our children were already behind pre-pandemic because of their difficult family situations. So let’s prioritize those children as well, to make sure they’re getting the extra instruction, as well as the services they need for their families.

Christina Veiga (21:19)  

So I think that does it for us. I do want to just open it up for you if you have the time, if there’s anything that we haven’t talked about, that you think is important to include in here. I feel like maybe we didn’t touch too much on summer programming things like internships.

Scott Stringer (21:33)  

Well, I you know, I look I want to do address the issue of summer camp. You know, some parents made plans months ago to send the kids to camp. And they made those plans. Others didn’t know that summer camp was open. So what I want to be able to do is partner with community based organizations to expand free day camps and other record recreational activities. And focus on serving communities hit hardest by COVID. Open up street pools, and get creative, and make every street, and every playground a summer camp for our children. We have got to make them believe that this city is back for them as well. I was talking to a parent the other night who has a one-and-a-half-year-old who doesn’t know any anything, but wearing a mask. Did you ever think about that? A one year old has in this life, has been wearing a mask, and having all these safety requirements. That’s how they think the world works. So we’ve got to sort of begin to tell them this world is wide open. You don’t even know the great things that this city has to offer. And I think that’s going to be exciting for city government, and play a role in that.

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