August 19, 2015
Laurie A. Cumbo, NYC Councilmember

When we fail to advocate on behalf of our children, we set them up for failure. When you uproot children from their communities and place them in unfamiliar surroundings, you remove their sense of identity and place them at a disadvantage.

The Administration for Children’s Services utilizes a “Request for Proposal” process to award contracts to service providers to oversee the early care and education of over 100,000 children through EarlyLearn NYC, New York City’s early care and education services. ACS utilizes the RFP process to assess and reassess proposals submitted annually by new and existing providers. Its design, however, is flawed, posing yet another challenge for minority and women entrepreneurs.

After more than 30 years of instructional excellence and with over 6,000 graduates, the Young Minds Day Care Center was one of 14 EarlyLearn centers in communities of color citywide slated for closure. The majority of these affected centers were owned and operated by minority child care providers who established longstanding relationships and roots in the communities they served with experience ranging from 10 to 40 years. Despite their outstanding track record and community support, ACS awarded their seats to “higher scoring proposals.” The new day care providers selected by the city agency lacked the track record, and a comparative model that would mirror the culturally sensitive curriculum required to meet the needs of our young scholars. The closure of our day care centers would have been detrimental to our community and placed an undue burden on working families.

As members of the New York City Council’s Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, my colleagues and I fought for discretionary funding to restore the seats that would have been eliminated or redistributed by ACS. It is a disservice to our children, their parents and to the city as a whole when ambiguous policies and panelists determine which option is best for our community.

Moving forward, from the ranking criteria to the selection of the panelists, transparency should be at the forefront of ensuring accountability throughout the evaluation process. The name, professional background and affiliation of all panelists with ACS should be made public. In addition, the mayor, the speaker and borough presidents should appoint voting members to the panel who possess the competency of the child care system and reflect the diversity of the city of New York through gender, age, race and creed. In late June, it was reported that high-ranking officials from ACS who helped implement the EarlyLearn program transitioned to the providers who won city contracts. To avoid bias or conflict of interest, employees or panelists with direct oversight in the EarlyLearn process should not seek employment with contractors until a period of five years has lapsed from the date of resignation.

The exclusion of community stakeholders who are uniquely positioned to weigh in on the impact of a provider is essential to ensure that the academic, social and cultural needs of each scholar is met. Letters of support from parents and elected officials should be included in the evaluation process as well as a site visit.

Organizations should not have to participate in the RFP process if they have received good or excellent ratings from the agency over the past several years of operation. The process should occur every eight years, not annually or biannually.

The education of our children is the collective responsibility of the community or “village,” which comprises parents, guardians, educators, administrators, peers and neighbors who have for too long been excluded from the process.

*** This guest article first appeared in the Amsterdam News on August 13, 2015.


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