Is City-Funded Day Care at Risk?
As New Yorkers suffer through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, we find our city-funded Day Care system under attack once again. Without communicating why, or providing any transition, the Mayor’s office seems bent on upending Day Care Centers.
Now, if the city wanted to redesign an admittedly imperfect system while carefully considering the impact on the children and families involved, we would welcome it. But because this is so clearly not the case, early education advocates and lawmakers have rallied to prevent the loss of a precious resource: the community-based Day Care Center.
The city has closed 17 Day Care Centers in the last four years, and, come September—as a so-called cost-saving measure—the city will yank 3,500 five-year-olds from Day Care Centers and shove them, helter-skelter, into whatever public schools have seats. Until outraged parents, lawmakers, union representatives and Day Care Center personnel forced the issue, no thought had been put into whether these children will be in schools close to home or close to their parents’ jobs, or who will look after the children after school. We still have not received a satisfactory explanation as to how this will be implemented.
The goal of this plan is to save money by shifting the budgetary responsibility of the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) to the Department of Education (DOE). To this day, however, no city official has offered an explanation as to how much money will be saved, nor explained how the city will provide daylong care to these children—that’s care that takes place before school hours as well as after. (Even Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said there would be no real savings, at a recent public hearing.)
Of course, the city’s handling of Day Care Centers is hardly surprising. Day Care Directors and teachers have been without new contracts for three years. And despite efforts to continue negotiations, the city insists that it can’t afford the health care benefits for Day Care employees that all other city employees enjoy.
Obviously, educating five-year-olds in New York City’s public schools is not the issue. What is disturbing is how the plan was dropped like a bomb into the lives of working families who depend upon daylong care for their five-year-olds. These families simply aren’t in any shape to make the switch by September (any more than the DOE is ready to receive them).
The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents Day Care Directors, has offered the following compromise for quality Day Care while allowing for a shared responsibility for expenditure:
- The DOE should operate classes for five-year-olds at city-funded Day Care Centers where the children are already enrolled.
- The DOE should bear the cost of the instructional program—the teachers and instructional supports—to spare ACS that expense.
- When school ends, and the teacher leaves, ACS picks up the tab for the after-school care.
In this way, today’s families will receive the support they have come to depend on while the city begins to reshape and restructure the city’s funded Day Care system for future families. President Obama has singled out early childhood education as the foundation of our educational system. Let’s make sure New York City becomes a model without allowing 3,500 youngsters to fall in the cracks on the way.#
Dr. Randi Herman is the First VP of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators.