Pre-K and 3-K will expand in response to fears of early ed cutbacks: DOE

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CHELSEA, Manhattan — Recently proposed changes to how pre-K and 3-K seats are determined citywide have left some families and some community organizations concerned that some city residents who’ve been hardest hit by the pandemic will be hit even harder.

They’re concerned about cuts to the programs. But late on Tuesday afternoon, the city’s education department announced that the changes will increase the number of seats, rather than reduce them.

The Dept. of Education said in a statement that organizations that already operate, or have applied to operate pre-K or 3-K programs “will now be offered more or new seats — including programs in Manhattan seeking to serve more income-eligible children.”

That should come as welcome news for families who spoke with PIX11 News about the changes to the number of pre-K and 3-K seats that had been proposed by the DOE.

Lila Ford was walking her granddaughter home from second grade when she spoke with PIX11 News. Her granddaughter had been in a public pre-school program in Chelsea. Ford said that every child should be able to benefit from the same type of program that her granddaughter did, close by, in their own neighborhoods.

“If they close this,” she asked, “where are the working parents going to send their children?”

Sally McGuire works in Chelsea, and her 7th grader son is an honor roll student at a charter school in Brooklyn. He’d gone to public pre-K.

“It’s a necessity,” McGuire said, in an interview. She added that she felt that the DOE has “to take seriously” any concern about losing pre-kindergarten seats, “because the lower income families are here as well.”

The concern is real, because publicly-funded pre-K and 3-K capacity is determined in part by the average income level of neighborhoods in which the programs are located.

In some of the city’s most gentrified neighborhoods, including Chelsea, the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, and the Lower East Side in Manhattan, as well as in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, some community leaders have sought assurances from the city. They’re worried that lower-income residents who’ve watched their communities’ average income increase will be left behind when it comes to early childhood education.

Jamel Peebles, whose elementary school-age children had gone to pre-K, summed up some of the concerns.

“At this time,” he said, “there’s people out of work, so they need the pre-K to find a job,” he said. “How can you find a job, if you have your kids home, right?” Peebles asked.

Some of the largest operators of 3-K and pre-K in the city are settlement houses. They’re some of the city’s longest-standing community centers.

Every few years, the settlement houses file documents with the city, called RFPs, which show the organizations’ abilities to operate 3-K and pre-K programs.

The city then contracts with the settlement houses to have the programs operate in the settlement house buildings.

“To support stability for families and communities during these difficult times, some programs that already applied to our recent RFPs will now be offered more or new seats — including programs in Manhattan seeking to serve more income-eligible children,” the DOE said in a statement Tuesday. “We have already awarded more preschool seats in every borough than there are currently enrolled children and this new opportunity combined with our new RFP underscore our commitment to providing families with as many early childhood opportunities as possible.”

It’s a new development that speaks directly to needs that the settlement houses’ consortium organization, called United Neighborhood Houses, or UNH, expressed earlier on Tuesday. The organization’s director of policy and advocacy, Nora Moran, spoke with PIX11 News.

“We need to grow the pot overall and make sure that we’re serving more families,” Moran said, “because we know childcare is very expensive. It’s hard to come by, and the less of it there is to go around, the harder it’s going to be for us to recover from COVID.”

The DOE said that further details on the upcoming expanded early childhood programs, including pre-K, 3-K and Head Start, will be released later this month.

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