The single most notable achievement of Mayor Bill DeBlaio’s eight years as Mayor of New York City was the creation of a free, universal pre-k program.
Marina Toure of Politico reports that new Mayor Eric Adams is cancelling the expansion of the program to include all three-year-olds.
The immensely popular universal prekindergarten program was the brainchild of former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014. Three years later, he began expanding it to 3-year-olds. The pioneering education policy remains the single biggest achievement from de Blasio’s two terms in office. It was so successful that it became a national model for other major cities like Seattle and Washington.
Six years ago, New York City hosted leaders from a dozen cities across the U.S. to share lessons learned from its free early childhood education program for over 70,000 4-year-olds.
And yet, in a wildly expensive city where monthly child care costs top $3,500, a staggering 30 percent of free pre-K and “3K” seats were unfilled as of November.
Mayor Eric Adams, who took office in January, is canceling de Blasio’s plan for universal 3K, citing mismanagement of the program that led to the empty seats and budget cuts. Enrollment declines caused by the Covid-19 pandemic combined with a lack of education and outreach led to a striking imbalance where the lowest-income neighborhoods had the greatest number of empty seats and the wealthiest ones had long wait lists.
The result means children whose families are struggling the most will be deprived of a lifeline — a chance at the kind of free, quality education that’s been shown to improve performance in high school mathematics. It could also be a deterrent to other cities looking to replicate New York’s model after President Joe Biden repeatedly failed to get funding for early childhood education in spending bills.
Adams blames DeBlasio for the program’s shortcomings.
Leonie Haimson chimed in on the New York City parents’ blog to say that the program was “horribly implemented.” (Note: CBO=Community Based Organization.)
De Blasio’s preK program was horribly implemented and incredibly wasteful. Under Josh Wallach, the DOE insisted on putting as many kids as possible into elementary schools, including those that were already overcrowded and had waitlists for Kindergarten, contributing to worse overcrowding for about 236,000 students.
Meanwhile CBOs that had been in the preK program for years were starved for students, putting many of them at risk of closing down. There were MANY empty seats in CBOs, who directors begged for more students, to no avail. – despite the fact that their quality is rated more highly in many respects than the preKs in elementary school and provide services till 5 or 6 PM.
The Politico article mentions this [the botched implementation] in passing: “Finally, an application process controlled by the DOE — as opposed to parents being able to enroll their children directly with community providers — has led to access issues.” The CBOs had countless meetings with Wallach where he stubbornly refused to fix these problems
DOE also spent hundreds of millions of dollars in building stand-alone preK centers that stood half empty. The spending included renovating a leased space that previously housed a Dunkin Donuts shop in the basement of a parking garage in Brooklyn, costing six million dollars to create a preK classroom with a capacity of only 18 students, at a cost of $333,000 per student.
I wrote about this in our preK report ; press release here: https://classsizematters.org/the-impact-of-prek-on-school-overcrowding-in-nyc-lack-of-planning-lack-of-space/;
Here is an excerpt: “In recent testimony before the New York City Council, Lisa Caswell, a senior policy analyst with
the Day Care Council of New York, a federation of 91 non-profits which run child care programs,
addressed the fact that DOE had diverted students not only from DOE pre-K centers but also
from CBO centers to public schools. She testified that in previous years, the DOE had been
engaged in the “recruitment of children directly from our [CBO] settings to fill UPK seats,” which
added to public school pre-K enrollment while leaving seats empty in CBOs, causing these
centers loss of students.”
This is an example of the danger of mayoral control. The mayor makes decisions that promote his standing in the polls. A program run by professionals would have been better implemented.