June 2, 2023
NYC Council caucus blames Adams admin for “undermining success” of free preschool

NYC Council caucus blames Adams admin for “undermining success” of free preschool

New York City Council members are accusing the Adams administration of “undermining success” of the city’s free early childhood programs.

The Black, Latino and Asian Caucus penned a letter to Mayor Adams Tuesday night to express “deep concerns about the health of our city’s early childhood care and education system.” It was signed by 31 caucus members — a majority of the council.

“We share much of the vision that you previously laid out in your Blueprint for Child Care and Early Childhood Education,” read the memo, “yet current city agency administration of these programs is undermining success, including an overly bureaucratic contracting processes, severely late contract payments, and insufficient enrollment and outreach efforts.”

The letter comes a couple of weeks after the council pointed fingers during an oversight hearing at the administration for not doing enough to connect parents with programs, given the overwhelming demand for child care but thousands of stubbornly vacant preschool seats.

Roughly 16,000 seats in preschool for 3-year-olds are currently vacant, according to city data.

The caucus proposed several reforms, including better reimbursement systems to pay contracted child care providers on time, and expanded programs that offer extended hours and summer days that align with schedules of working parents.

Members also suggested an overhaul of the city’s enrollment practices, giving more responsibilities to small businesses so that their directors can recruit and enroll families in their neighborhood on site. Currently, enrollment goes through the Department of Education, providers explained. The proposed changes would invest in translated outreach campaigns to supplement those efforts.

“We know that Black, Latino and Asian children stand to lose the most if these agency problems are not resolved and proposed disinvestment in the system occurs,” wrote the signatories, including co-chairs Kevin Riley and Oswald Feliz, and education committee chair Rita Joseph.

Councilmember Oswald Feliz

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Joseph urged the Department of Education to bolster an outreach campaign that “mirrors the successful ‘UPK’ [universal pre-kindergarten] expansion” under the last administration.

“You saw them everywhere,” the councilwoman said of the agency’s outreach workers. “They tabled, they showed up. And at some point, they started rolling back and slowing down.”

“Our communities are being inadequately served right now,” she added. “There are a lot of waitlists, and programs are not in the right place.”

An external assessment of families’ child care needs is ongoing, though education officials have not disclosed who is doing the audit or how much it will cost.

Councilmember Rita Joseph

“Mayor Adams has put working families and everyday New Yorkers at the forefront of this administration’s policy decisions,” said Amaris Cockfield, a spokesperson for the mayor. “Since the beginning of this administration, we have invested in a range of programs that target both our recovery from the pandemic and a new vision for public schools — all while prioritizing our most vulnerable student populations.”

Cockfield pointed to various initiatives to support nonprofits that contract with the city, including the newly created Mayor’s Office of Nonprofit Services, a contract oversight initiative called “ContractStat,” and a recent 12-week push to clear a backlog of delayed reimbursements.

“We appreciate the City Council’s focus on these important initiatives,” she added, “and look forward to finding ways to sustain and build on our work to lift up our students and schools in the budgetary process.”

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