Local parents push for more-than-modest half-day pre-k

Local parents and educators advocating for a pre-kindergarten system that provides the option of full or half-day programs convened at the corner of 68th Street and Colonial Road on Wednesday, May 6 to call on Mayor Bill de Blasio to cut it with the “My way or the highway” attitude when it comes to universal pre-k.

“Our goal is not to threaten full-day pre-k but to give all parents the opportunity to make their own judgments about what is best for their families,” said Andrea Stockton, a stay-at-home mom of three from Bay Ridge who, in light of the city having only issued Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for full-day pre-k programs from non-governmental providers across the city, launched a petition in hopes of securing for parents the choice she said they were promised from the start.

While over 50,000 families had applied for free, universal full-day pre-k as of April – a sign of the program’s success, according to the mayor’s office — none of those parents was given the half-day option. Today, Stockton said, RFPs for half-day have finally been issued, but with only a one-year contract and 30 days to respond, dissimilar to what was granted to programs applying for full-day pre-k. Registration for full-day programs is expected to commence in June, according to Deputy Mayor Richard Buery.

But, Stockton stressed, parents are unsure just how many seats they can even expect.

“Releasing the half-day RFP was a big step in the direction of parental engagement and the flexibility necessary to adapt to each child’s needs,” said Stockton, whose three-year-old son, Bradley, will be entering pre-k in 2016. “My concern, however, is the apparent lack of commitment to maintain half-day programs alongside full-day pre-k.

“The city has promised that they are not phasing out half-day pre-k but, while only granting one year contracts to half-day providers with only three weeks to complete the application process, a different story seems to be told,” she continued, citing the city’s Friday, May 1 release of the half-day RFP, attached to a deadline of Friday, May 22.

Fellow parent Theresa Gonzalez agreed.

“With the promise of only a modest amount of half-day seats, families seeking half-day pre-k are being told to hold on to any full-day enrollment until half-day seat placements are announced,” she stressed, urging the de Blasio administration to open half-day pre-k at the same time as full-day next year, enabling parents to use the online registration system.

“Once these seats are announced sometime this summer these families will still have to seek out the [sites] in person and register on site instead of online from their homes,” Gonzalez went on. “This leaves families in a state of limbo, not knowing how to schedule for this coming September.”

Councilmember David Greenfield called the mayor’s move a “bizarre” one that leaves many would-be half-day providers in the very same state of limbo Gonzalez discussed.

“It puts [schools] in an impossible position where the providers, right now, are simply unable to [commit to half-day pre-k] because they don’t have any certainty as to what’s going to happen,” he said. “To make matters even worse, the RFP does not make it clear how many seats there are going to be.

“We need to stop playing games with parents who are relying on this very important form of education and child care,” he went on. “For the last six months, [parents] were promised that they would be given some clarity and the new RFP raises just as many questions as it answers.”

But, Buery touted the city’s efforts. “As promised, the administration released an RFP for half-day UPK programs,” he said. “We saw a truly incredible response from families applying for full-day pre-K this year, and we will continue to encourage parents to give full-day programs a very close look, and urge providers who apply for half-day contracts to also apply for full-day contracts since our half-day offering will be modest.”

Still, local parents argued, modesty might not be the best policy.

“Every neighborhood is different,” said Community Education Council 20 President Laurie Windsor, whose organization stands in support of Stockton’s petition, “and one size does not fit all. In our neighborhood, half-day is still in demand and there is no reason why both options can’t be offered.”

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