Some financial relief promised to pre-K providers; CBOs still look for parity with public schools

Several weeks after local community-based providers of pre-K complained publicly about inequitable funding, with public schools being far more generously funded per pupil than their community-based counterparts, the administration has moved to level the playing field somewhat.

On Friday, May 31, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced that the Department of Education had revised the RFPs (Requests for Proposal) that it issues with respect to early childhood education providers — which are a key part of the administration’s initiative to provide pre-kindergarten to all four-year-olds, as well as the newer 3-K-for-All — to raise the funding floor for providers, and support indirect costs and cost increases over the contract term.

In making the announcement, de Blasio said, “We’ve heard the voices of community advocates and the Council and are committed to ensuring early childhood education providers have the stability and funding they need to put our kids on the path to success inside and outside the classroom.”

For some time now, community-based organizations providing early childhood education have felt shortchanged by the DOE, contending that the funding disparity had resulted in “excellence without equity.” Specifically, they alleged that the city shorts the programs run by CBOs — especially compared with the generosity it shows toward similar programs run inside public schools.

Indeed, in early April, representatives of several CBOs gathered in Bay Ridge at the pre-K run out of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, 414 80th St., to make a public plea for adequate funding. They were joined by Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican who represents portions of Bay Ridge and Staten Island, who asserted, at the time, that the average cost per child in a community-based pre-K is $11,000. In a DOE-run school, it is over $30,000.

Among other things, this differential translates into lower pay for teachers at the CBOs, compared with their peers at city-run schools — an issue that remains unaddressed.

According to the city, the specific changes to the RFPs include making it easier for providers to meet their program needs, and help fill seats. The DOE has increased the up-front payments providers receive January of each school year to three-quarters of their contract value, a 10 percent increase over the original RFP. Providers that have enrollment greater than 75 percent will receive an enhanced payment, and those with at least 93 percent enrollment will receive their full contract value.

Among the early supporters of the CBOs’ call for equity is City Councilmember Mark Treyger, a Democrat representing portions of southwest Brooklyn who chairs the Council’s Committee on Education

Treyger applauded the revised RFPs, saying that the new approach “will help address many of the issues that the Council has heard from providers by ensuring base levels of funding, increasing enrollment supports, and providing flexible support for indirect costs and new needs like rent increases.

“CBO providers are the backbone of our early childhood education system,” he stressed, “but far too many are struggling with financial instability, jeopardizing their ability to meet the needs of the children and families who depend on them.”

However, Treyger acknowledged that although the revisions represent a step forward, there is still more work to be done to ensure the long-term sustainability of Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) and 3-K-for-All.

Malliotakis agreed.

While noting, “I appreciate that the mayor and the chancellor are acknowledging the severe issues facing our community-based organizations that have contracted with the city to provide pre-K,” Malliotakis told this paper, “I hope it’s going to be followed up with real action.”

Among the changes Malliotakis would like to see is, “The city curbing its wasteful spending to oversaturate the community with pre-K seats that aren’t even filled, and also being fair when it comes to reimbursing these schools as well as providing parity and pay to the educators at the schools.

“The problem has gotten so bad,” she went on, “that a lot of these community-based organizations that have been in our community for years are potentially going to have to close if this is not addressed in a timely fashion.”

Both of these unresolved issues were also brought up by Our Saviour’s Lutheran Preschool Executive Director Alice Mulligan.

While noting, “Very much appreciated is the acknowledgement that fixed costs do not change with fluctuations in enrollment, and payments in the new RFP will now reflect this,” Mulligan made a pitch for the other issues that remain unaddressed.

“It is important to note though, that CBOs want full enrollment,” she told this paper, contending, “This issue can be best addressed by reducing the number of seats offered in DOE buildings and centers. Curtailing future expansion where there is an already unnecessary and fiscally wasteful over-saturation of seats is critical to the sustainability of our programs.”

In addition, Mulligan pointed out that what has yet to be addressed is “the unethical lack of parity between identically qualified, professional staff in CBOs and their DOE counterparts.

“Without this, our children, families, staff and centers continue to face uncertainty and instability,” she said. ”We implore this mayor to do what is right and that which is in line with his core progressive beliefs in equality. We will continue the fight for what is right:  Equal pay for equal work.”

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