An overhaul of the city's child-care offerings that has concerned providers and advocates for nearly a year took a major step forward today, when the city announced which centers would receive new contracts for next year.
The city awarded contracts to 149 child-care providers on the basis of quality and experience. But providers that together currently offer more than 6,500 spots did not get contracts. On top of the proposed cuts to after school programs included in Mayor Bloomberg's budget proposal, more than 14,000 city children could go without care next year.
The overhaul, called EarlyLearn, is meant to improve the quality of city-funded programs and allocate seats more efficiently across neighborhoods. Last fall, providers had to reapply for contracts with the city — and the requirements were steep.
Here's what we wrote about the reauthorization process last summer:
The new standards are steep: Programs must show how they provide support to parents, create a challenging curriculum that prepares students for kindergarten and instruct children in health and safety. They need to find more time for staff development, guarantee service for children with special needs and be assessed annually according to a new grading program. Children will need to be screened for health, social and hygienic needs and assessed for academic gains. Some programs will have to expand their hours of operation. And for the first time, centers will need to pay for a portion of this themselves.
Resistance to the overhaul has grown as its implications have grown clearer.
Hundreds of parents, children, and day care workers protested proposed cuts to early childhood programs today at City Hall. (GothamSchools' Flickr)
With the deadline for next year's city budget looming, elected officials are eyeing early-childhood centers slated to be cut under Mayor Bloomberg's proposed budget as a key reduction to reverse. More than a dozen officials, including two mayoral candidates and three out of five borough presidents, decried the possible cuts today at a City Hall rally alongside hundreds of parents and workers associated with the centers.
The proposal would cut the budgets of early-childhood programs and replace kindergarten programs currently operated outside of the school system with Department of Education kindergarten classes. The city says that moving the kindergartens is necessary in order to save the Administration for Children's Services $15 million.
But parents today said that the current programs cover the burden of child-care in a way that schools, which end at 3 p.m. and are shuttered on holidays, cannot. The programs at risk of being shut are operated out of ACS, the city's social services arm for children, as part of larger daycare operations. Head Start, the early childhood program, is also slated to see its budget slashed by 3 percent.
Desiree Jean-Mary said she is upset that her son, Joshua, who attends a Head Start program in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, might not be able to continue there next year when he enters kindergarten. Right now, Jean-Mary, who has two other children, picks Joshua up at 5 p.m. after her job as a home health aide is over for the day. “It would be really hard if I had to find somewhere else for him to go — I don’t want that,” she said.
Talking about Barack Obama's hopes for expanding early childhood education (school for 3- and 4-year-olds) Sam Dillon reports in the Times this morning that, despite efforts to make pre-kindergarten available, New York State's efforts are "far from complete." How far? Pretty far. There are two areas to pay attention to: access (how many 4-year-olds are actually enrolled in programs) and quality (are the programs doing real teaching or simply baby-sitting?).
Let's start with access. New York City advocates told me last year that they estimate demand for pre-kindergarten in the city at about 75,000 4-year-olds. Yet the number of 4-year-olds who are taking part so far this year is 54,000. That represents a steady increase from years past, the Department of Education's director of early childhood education, Recy B. Dunn, just told me in a telephone interview. But it's still far away from universal — and it's also below the number of seats the state agreed to pay for this year, 60,000, a package that would cost just over $230 million, Dunn said. The picture statewide is arguably bleaker. Winnie Hu of the Times reported last year that only 38% of 4-year-olds in the state participated in programs.