The city is ‘walking back’ a $351 million investment in early childhood education and grappling with a severe pay backlog for early childhood providers, mirroring last year’s intense budget season. It’s especially disheartening since Mayor Eric Adams had just announced the investments last year.
“Ultimately, all of this is hurting our children, their families, and hardworking early childhood providers. This is particularly concerning for the city’s low income residents and communities of color who desperately need more extended day and year seats,” said Councilmember and Education Chair Rita Joseph. “We need to stay on top of this and ensure that this does not happen again.”
On Feb 15, Joseph led an oversight hearing on the Department of Education’s (DOE) issues funding universal pre-K and 3-Kindergarten, and millions in delayed reimbursements to early childhood providers. Joseph said that many providers have permanently shut down as a result.
The current budget for early childhood education is $2.2 billion, and there are more than 140,000 children at the pre-K to 3-K level, according to the DOE. Still, there’s under enrollment across the city of about 40,000 seats. The DOE largely blamed the backlog in payments on invoice filing issues, a flawed payment system, and too many similar education seats in one location.
“That’s not to say everything is perfect. It is not. You can absolutely find providers that are waiting longer, we have to do better, but what this represents is real improvement,” said First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg.
The DOE testified that there were nearly 4,000 invoices predating Adams’ administration that had not been completed, indicating a “destabilized” sector pre-pandemic. The DOE said they’ve submitted at least 3,800 back invoices from the previous fiscal year, resulting in over $122 million in payments. For fiscal year 2023, the DOE anticipates paying out $1.2 billion to early childhood providers. So far this year they’ve received over 2,000 invoices and paid out about $162 million, claiming the average payment was doled out in 17 days.
Many in the hearing, including the DOE, noted that early childhood education is a profession often made up of Black and brown women who are already paid less than their public teacher counterparts in schools.
Dr. Sanayi Beckles-Canton is the executive director at Chloe Day School & Wellness Center and previously ran the Harlem education council in District 5. She poured her life savings into building a pre-K program. Her organization is three years in with a contract approved in July 2021, but has had to deal with the city’s inefficient payment system and lack of communication.
“Due to the systematic bureaucracy we have experienced with the [DOE] and the Department of Health, our school has yet to be open fully,” said Beckles-Canton. “We still have not received one payment.”
Other advocates and organizations also testified that their contracts and payments had not been fulfilled for an extended period of time, for some several months, leading to staff missing paychecks and community-based providers resorting to taking out loans to stay afloat. They demanded systemic change in addition to rapid response teams and advance payments doled out last year when the backlog first became an issue.
Councilmember Julie Menin sponsored bills aimed at funding universal child care policies and existing child care centers when the legislative package was passed. Menin said that it was “unacceptable” that people aren’t getting paid on time. She introduced a new bill to track and monitor the payments for childhood care providers.
Meanwhile, city leaders looked to the state for help. Dr. Kaliris Y. Salas-Ramirez, who sits on the Panel for Educational Policy, said early childhood programs were very much funded by the federal stimulus money the city received during COVID that can only be used for education. “We are going to get a little money from the state that may offset some of the cuts this year, but again moving forward that’s a [gray area],” said Salas-Ramirez.
Mayor Adams and Speaker Adrienne Adams both pleaded with the state in budget hearings last week to help with funding schools, help with increases in the charter cap, and accommodate bigger class sizes as well as universal pre-K and 3-K.
“As our city has experienced, investments in Pre-K yield large dividends for our children and families. While the Executive Budget includes funding to expand Pre-K around the state, New York City is not guaranteed access to these funds,” testified Speaker Adams. “We would hope that our foresight on early childhood education through 3-K and Pre-K is rewarded with needed state support.
Mayor Adams said that the overall goal is to protect and fully fund childhood education, but it’s concerning that the city was funding permanent programs with temporary stimulus money while dealing with under enrollment. “The funding from the federal government, as you know, is going to run out in 2025. It is a substantial dollar amount. Our goal is to continue universal pre-K and I also believe we made a major error,” testified Adams. “We were funding seats and not bodies in the seats.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1
I think the matter for universal childcare should remain front and center and there should be no cuts to education period!
Adams is quick to point out what is “hurting our children”. However, he persists in refusing to reduce class size which the data shows has proven to increase academic achievement. Social and emotional development are enhanced as well. These budget cuts to education are hurting the children. Although the “migrant crisis” is being touted to justify his budget, budget cuts to education predate the crisis. The response to the post pandemic education crisis should be equally robust to the “migrant crisis”.
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