Sponsor a child

3-K receives the bulk of NYC school stimulus funding. But Adams could put the brakes on his expansion.

When New York City schools received more than $7 billion in federal stimulus funds last year, city officials planned to spend more than a quarter of it on one flagship initiatives of then-mayor Bill de Blasio: extending preschool to 3-year-olds.

His administration, however, never explained how the city would pay for the program once those federal dollars ran out by the 2025-26 school year, saying only that he was confident the economy would rebound by the.

Now, as Mayor Eric Adams watches reduce a potential budget deficit of $10 billion when federal dollars are drying up Three years from now, observers fear the city won’t have enough money to pay for the growing program.

City officials declined to say whether they wanted to make preschool universal for 3-year-olds as de Blasio had planned, saying instead that the education department was “committed to optimizing the access to care, based on family needs and preferences, for ages birth to five.

And the mayor and his school principal, David Banks, appear to have their own agenda that Adams has been campaigning on: making childcare for children under 3 more affordable for low-income families, the New York Times reported Thursday.

That could leave many families banking on childcare and early learning for their 3-year-olds without subsidized options, according to budget watchdogs and organizations that represent preschool providers.

“The problem really is that if you’re offering a service that’s expected to be recurring, you have to tie up funding for it,” said Ana Champeny, vice president of research at the Citizens Budget Commission, an organization nonpartisan nonprofit budget watchdog. .

Officials did not say how they plan to pay for the popular program once federal relief funds run out, nor did they share their plans to cut stimulus spending.

“Federal stimulus funds will eventually expire, and we look forward to working with our partners at all levels of government toward a sustainable path to investing in high-quality early childhood education programs,” Door said. – Department of Education spokesperson Suzan Sumer in a statement.

Need for affordable daycare

De Blasio began opening free preschool programs for 3-year-olds in 2017, after successfully launching Universal Preschool for 4-year-olds. Using federal stimulus dollars, the city opened 3-K seats in every community school district last year.

Pre-kindergarten for 3-year-olds was the only class where enrollment actually increased last year, more than doubling from the previous year as the city opened up more spaces.

Last year, the city offered more than 46,000 3-K seats, a figure that includes places funded by federal dollars, and filled about 38,000. The city was expected to open about 8,000 more this year. school, according to the Department of Education.

Nathaniel Styer, spokesman for the Education Department, tweeted that there are neighborhoods where many seats go unfilled, while in others there aren’t enough to meet the demand. request. For example, this year, Southwest Brooklyn had 1,054 3K seats available and 53 left vacant. But in the Bronx’s High Bridge and Morrisania, just under half of the 2,400 open seats had been filled.

Rebecca Iwerks, who lives in East Harlem with her husband and three children, enrolled her 3-year-old daughter in a city-funded program near their home. Prior to this year, she and her husband, who both work, paid for daycare that cost almost as much as their rent.

Iwerks’ daughter has “been really happy”, waking up every morning asking if she’s going to school. She seems to have spoken more there, Iwerks said.

“Having a more affordable child care option for her is a huge game changer for us,” Iwerks said.

Several studies have shown that preschool is beneficial for children. A 2019 South Carolina study found that children who attended public preschool programs had higher test scores in grades 3-5, also improving the school environment of their peers. Students who participated in the program were also less likely to be disciplined. Another study found that siblings and children of students who attended preschool did better academically, had better employment outcomes, and were less likely to be involved in crime.

However, a 2018 national study challenged this narrative: it found that public preschool did not lead to better test scores in fourth grade, but there were gains for children in majority districts. of black students.

3-K gets lion’s share of COVID relief money

When the federal COVID dollars were poured in, city officials planned to use $2 billion of them to expand 3-K through the 2024-25 school year. It was the largest use of district stimulus dollars over time, according to to an analysis last year of the Independent Budget Office, or IBO. De Blasio had planned to make the program universal by the next school year.

The problem, budget watchers have warned, begins in July 2025, when federal aid runs out. By then, the city will face a $376 million shortfall for 3-K and did not indicate a funding source to cover the entire program, according to a budget tracker by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. This is part of the roughly $840 million budget shortfall the Department of Education will face in 2025 due to programs it funded using federal stimulus funds.

As stimulus spending for pre-K increases each year, the city is spending less on school resumption for K-12 schools, including additional services for students with disabilities, as money grows. federal is drying up. The city is also spending less of these funds overall on school budgets due to projected declining enrollment.

According to Phyllis Jordan, associate director of Future ed.

School districts are allowed to use federal aid to expand preschool programs, said a spokesperson for the state Department of Education, which approved the city’s planned use of COVID dollars. Signaling support for the city’s plan, the spokesperson said the expansion of pre-K programs “responds to the loss of learning, socialization and other fundamental early childhood skills necessary for success at long term”.

The huge investment of federal dollars drew mixed feelings from Nora Moran, director of policy at United Neighborhood Houses, which represents childcare providers. The city addressed something that “is a huge problem for working parents” and good for young children, Moran said, but his organization was concerned about using temporary dollars to support it.

They raised the issue with the de Blasio administration, only to be told the economy would rebound, she said. If not, community providers may have to scale back their programs.

“I think it would probably be a disaster for a lot of providers and families if you see a loss of programs,” said Gregory Brender, policy director for the Day Care Council, which also represents preschool programs. “Families end up struggling, you have workers losing their jobs.”

grow smarter

While policy analysts worry about the program’s future, they also want the city to focus on a program that actually works for families. Both Moran and Brender noted that most preschool classrooms operate from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., which reflects the school day but does not cover families working later. It does not offer the kind of after-school programs that might be available for students in older grades. Moran noted that there are federally funded preschool spaces until 6 p.m., but these are in the minority and reserved for low-income families.

Iwerks, the mother from East Harlem, still pays for her daughter’s follow-up – albeit at a fraction of the cost – which lasts until 5:30 p.m. She feels lucky that the afterschool program is located in the same church as her daughter’s. -K.

“It’s a good question about how all this investment happens and who stands to benefit if you can’t get child care for a pre-K child after 3 hours,” Iwerks said.

Brender, of the Day Care Council, said any cuts to the program could lead to intense budget fights down the road, and the city must make tough choices about what to do next.

“But we know families are still desperate for early childhood options, and we think it will be popular enough where hopefully the city and state will work to keep it going,” Brender said.

Reema Amin is a journalist covering New York City schools with a focus on state politics and English learners. Contact Reema at [email protected]



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