Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Re-Thinking Early Learn NYC

The Early Learn NYC concept paper dramatically alters how child care and early childhood education services are delivered to New York City’s lower income families. In fact, the requirement of enrolling parents who can afford out of pocket Early Childhood Education expenses indicates a move toward serving a more affluent sector of the city. Current ACS-funded programs need to ask whether, in the future, a specified percentage of slots will be allocated for market rate families. It would bring clarity if the concept paper provided the rationale for including unsubsidized households into a service designed to give lower income parents the ability to go to school or work, knowing their infant,toddler or preschooler is in a safe, clean, mentally and physically stimulating environment.

The paper reveals a concern for greater capacity of each funded program through the exclusion of family day care and group family day care providers who are unable to merge into a network; contract awards as high as $20 million for serving 2,000 children and having the resources and staff expertise to serve infants, special needs and English language learners at one center. These requirements assume that a center will be funded such that it can pay appropriate salaries for specialty educators. Further, are there existing NYC-based programs that can manage $20 million operations?

New York City’s need for subsidized child care is substantiated when one looks at the percentage of households receiving some form of income support assistance by community districts and the percentage of the population who is five years of age and younger. There are community districts wherein 30 – 40% of residents are such recipients. So, then, why does it occur that some programs are consistently under-enrolled? Some professionals explain that the certification process is taking too long. If this is true then, the Full Enrollment Initiative must include provisions to quicken the process. Without a clear study of the enrollment/certification throughput, the pre-enrollment activities that centers and networks perform will result in backlog.

Early Learn NYC is a competitive model. There will be at least 50 fewer programs serving NYC. On the other hand those who are awarded will learn to diversify their funding base; serve children of differing talents; initiate aggressive cooperative and individual marketing campaigns and activate sponsoring boards to engage in strategic planning and resource development.

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