educational equity · NYC Schools · NYC Teacher Voices · preK · Teacher Voices · Teaching in NYC

Who Will Pay For NYC’s “Free” College and “Free” Pre-K?

During his speech to joint sessions of Congress on Wednesday, April 28, 2021, President Joe Bident promised “universal free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, as well as two years of free community college for young adults.”

Neither proposal is new to New York City. 

Just as neither proposal is exactly free.

Governor Cuomo introduced a “free” college plan back in 2017. At the time, I wrote:

With the promise of “FREE” college, middle-class kids without the grades and SATs to apply for merit aid (at private colleges) will flood SUNY and CUNY schools. In the process they may push out poorer kids…. As NPR reported about a similar initiative down South, “evidence suggests that Georgia’s program has widened the gap in college attendance between blacks and whites and between those from low- and high-income families. Wait a minute. So a free tuition plan, instead of helping low-income and minority students, actually left them further behind? Yes.”

When it comes to Universal Pre-K for 3 and 4 year olds, we’ve written in the past about how the NYC program, to date is:

  • Using public money to fund religious schools
  • Beginning public school segregation at an earlier age
  • Cutting the hours of child-care available to low-income parents from full-day to 8:00 AM at 2:20 PM
  • Cutting the months of child-care available to low-income parents from year-round to September-June
  • Serving less children from the lowest-income group than any other
  • Opening more centers even as existing ones fail to attract a full cohort of students
  • Closing centers for a variety of failures even as the Department of Education swears that all are exactly the same “high-quality”

Just last month, in her post, Who Is Really Paying For NYC to Have “Free” Pre-K for 3 Year Olds?, Bronx preschool director Chloe Pashman wrote:

The recent “3K For All” expansion has once again been hailed as an altruistic “achievement” of the DeBlasio administration, and, of course, it is anything but…. CBOs – community-based organizations where the majority of the 3K seats in this expansion will be located (read: NOT in DOE buildings). CBO preschools and their staff members (mostly women of color) bore the brunt of the 4K (Pre-K) expansion, and now will have 3K hoisted onto their tired shoulders…. The most recent thanks we are getting is to be browbeat into accepting ridiculously tiny budgets that would require us to reduce the amount of teachers in classrooms (yes, still during a pandemic), accept a lack of full time school nurses and security, to be bullied into working a longer day and year, because the DOE staff prefers an abbreviated schedule, and much more. 

Now her colleague, Marina Kolmanovsky of Brooklyn, confirms and elaborates:

There are a lot of CBOs that are relatively small and cannot afford to be part of the union. 

While many are happy with the salary increase for (non-union) teachers and staff and believe that the pay parity has come a long way, I have yet to experience it. The Department of Education still has not adjusted my center’s budget or the teacher salary increase and the 2% increase for other staff still has not been processed for my center. In fact, besides receiving an email from the Department of Education about these increases back in October 2020, I have not received any other communication from them.

This year, the teacher’s salary was adjusted to approximately $62,000. How is that even comparable with (DOE) teachers who work in schools? Most CBO teachers have years of experience and while the salary increase is ok, it is nothing more than that. However, it seems all talks about pay parity have stopped. 

Also, I attended some virtual Department of Education meetings and one of the meetings explained how reimbursements for PreK and 3K will be offered based on attendance. How is that even legal? All these years, CBOs would secure a flat rate per child and that rate will be paid on a monthly basis. What Department of Education proposes now is beyond ridiculous. The rate of running a PreK and/or 3K will be based on attendance. So, for the months when attendance is low, due to many kids being ill or whatever, the Department of Education will pay you a lot less than what you are contracted to receive for that month. So does it mean, CBOs should pay their teachers less for that month, or demand a lower rent from their landlord, default on paying bills?  

Due to a lack of space in overcrowded public schools, over 60% of NYC kids attend Pre-K in CBOs. That number will only grow with the expansion of 3PK, which Mayor DeBlasio — ahead of President Biden — promised will be universal by 2023. (DeBlasio, of course, will be out of office by then, so, like with many of his highly touted initiatives, he’s here to accept the praise for the announcement, but will be long gone for any criticism if they fail.)

NYC parents are excited about “free” college and “free” Pre-K. The Federal initiative will be organized and administered on a state and city level and will likely be rolled into existing programs.

Based on what is already happening in NYC, maybe we should temper our excitement until we also confirm who will really be paying for it all? Otherwise, we’re part of the problem.

What do you think?

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