Sunday, January 11, 2009

Publicly-Funded Can Stand Some E-Government

For at least three years, New York City's publicly funded child care providers have been on pins and needles about their existence. They're accused of not collecting parent fees, being under-enrolled and/or not hiring certified teachers quickly. Let's face it, if you were certified by the NYS Education Department, would you prefer being compensated the 40 odd thousand dollars running a public school classroom or $20 - $30,000 a nonprofit childcare center can afford? If you loved the work environment and the great one-on-one with parents, you'd do what many existing childcare center employees do: stay there and enroll in college. It takes four years to get a baccalaureate and two more for a graduate degree. True, recruiting retired teachers is another solution.

If it's true centers aren't collecting the parent fee, enforce the reality that the uncollected parent fee is their lost operating budget. If a center's budget is, for example, $100,000 and $25,000 is in parent fees, then to cover annual costs that money needs to be collected.

What's disturbing in this electronic age is under-enrollment. Enrollment is based on families being certified eligible for public childcare and the public being aware that publicly-funded childcare--home-based and center-based--is available throughout NYC. Certification involves different forms being completed by parents or guardians accompanied by certain documents. The material is sent to the Resource Areas for processing. Childcare providers and families say that the Resource Areas take several weeks--sometimes months--to recertify families. In the meantime, families' previous certification expires; then, they can't afford the market fee and the center can't afford to serve the family without payment. Enrollment drops because time lapsed in families' recertification.

Administrtion for Children's Services (ACS) instituted an online 'recert' process that permits centers to do the work online and transmit the application electronically. The hitch is application review is still performed by the Resource Area staff; therefore, weeks pass before a decision is made.

Maybe ACS needs to sidle up to DoITT to devise the means to connect recertification and new applications with various online, backdoor databases. This means as a family or childcare provider inputs the data into the system, it's being compared with Department of Labor, Social Security Administration and/or Human Resource Administration data on the same family. In nanoseconds an 'approve,' 'disapprove,' or 'more information needed' message would appear. Isn't this what the Department of Labor does to process unemployment benefit applications? Why should New York's children and families not get the same benefit of accurate, electronic processing?

The other factor in under-enrollment, public awareness, can be resolved through public service announcements through traditional and social media. Why doesn't New York City have PSAs on satellite radio, Internet radio, WNYE, WNYC, the daily papers and Web sites catering to moms? Transit advertising during the summer would work wonders.

Hmmm, Let me contact ACS and DoITT for their thoughts.

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