EarlyLearn’s Adverse Impacts on Day Care and Head Start Programs
November 1, 2012
By Marc Bussanich
As anticipated and feared by union members, parents and children advocates, the EarlyLearn early childhood education program is causing disruption to the city’s day care and Head Start network. Kimberly Berry, a staff organizer for District Council 1707, the union that represents teachers, cooks and assistants in day care and Head Start centers, said that multiple sponsors who operate the centers have had to close them or reduce capacity because they did not receive sufficient awards from the Administration for Children’s Services.
Berry is the union representative for 13 Head Start and 54 day care centers in Brooklyn and Staten Island. She was a teacher for 14 years in a day care center before joining the union as a staff organizer. She was the union rep for the Court Street Day Care Center of Amico for 10 years before it closed its doors on September 28. The center employed 12 staff personnel and provided services for 36 children.
“In 2011, day care and Head Start centers had the opportunity to bid for new EarlyLearn contracts. Unfortunately, the Court Street Center didn’t win a contract, and because another sponsor did not bid for the center, it was forced to close its doors, leaving parents to pursue other day care options elsewhere,” said Berry.
ACS is the city agency that provides the funding to sponsors such as the Court Street Center who in turn use the money to operate the center to pay staff and provide resources to teach the children. ACS determined which providers would receive contracts based on certain criteria, such as money management and fundraising ability. Indeed, ACS requires that providers fund 6.7 percent of their program through fundraising.
But Berry noted that the fundraising requirement is placing a burden on centers that have not had to fundraise previously.
“The boards of some centers that have raised money are doing a very good job of operating within their budget, but there are smaller boards that do not have the resources and therefore are unlikely to raise the amount required by ACS.”
Some centers that did not receive EarlyLearn awards appealed ACS’s decision, but the Court Street Center’s director informed Berry that the board wasn’t appealing the decision because the board had dissolved soon after the center lost the bid for a new contract.
Berry investigated that claim by speaking with the board’s chairperson, as the center’s director did not inform her who was the source of that information.
“I talked to the board’s chairperson who informed me that the director’s claim that the board had dissolved was untrue. In fact, the chairperson said the board was still intact and had actively appealed ACS’s decision,” said Berry.
She speculates that the director, who became the center’s director less than a year ago, provided information that contradicted the chairperson’s claim because the director did not have strong ties to the community and therefore was not as eager or active as the previous director to keep the center open.
“I believe the director didn’t fight as hard because she was seeking other opportunities. I told the director that a union supervisor would inquire with another sponsor [Strong Place Day Care Center] to learn if that sponsor would be interested in taking over the Court Street Center, but the director never responded,” Berry said.
Berry also noted that a parent and teacher meeting was convened at Court Street soon after the EarlyLearn proposal was announced, and the parents who attended were energetic to keep the center open. But the number of involved parents soon dwindled, as it became clear to them that they had to make other plans, such as placing their children in kindergarten in public schools.
Berry said that she has not seen an example since EarlyLearn took effect of a smooth transition whereby one sponsor takes over a center closed by another sponsor that didn’t receive an EarlyLearn award. When ACS did not award the Aquadilla Day Care Center in Brooklyn a contract to administer a day care and Head Start center, another sponsor, Catholic Charities, won the bid to move the two centers—Robert F. Kennedy Day Care and St. Joseph Head Start—into a new building.
“Catholic Charities had only four days to prepare the building to accept children into the program, but as of today they’re still in the process of trying to get the building ready. This is an example of the hardship and strain the city is putting on programs.”
A similar outcome happened to a sponsor, Friends of Crown Heights Center, on Staten Island. The sponsor had administered a center for 60 children in the Stapleton Housings development until it lost the contract to the Lutheran Social Services of NY, which was relocating the center to 27 Hudson Street.
A FOCH board member informed Berry that he visited the new location, but it too was not ready to open and was told that it would not open until March 2013.
“The board member contacted ACS to learn if FOCH could keep the center open in the Stapleton Housings development to prevent 60 children from being displaced. But ACS never responded to his requests,” Berry said.