City's early childhood overhaul moves forward, draws criticism

An overhaul of the city’s child-care offerings that has concerned providers and advocates for nearly a year took a major step forward today, when the city announced which centers would receive new contracts for next year.

The city awarded contracts to 149 child-care providers on the basis of quality and experience. But providers that together currently offer more than 6,500 spots did not get contracts. On top of the proposed cuts to after school programs included in Mayor Bloomberg’s budget proposal, more than 14,000 city children could go without care next year.

The overhaul, called EarlyLearn, is meant to improve the quality of city-funded programs and allocate seats more efficiently across neighborhoods. Last fall, providers had to reapply for contracts with the city — and the requirements were steep.

Here’s what we wrote about the reauthorization process last summer:

The new standards are steep: Programs must show how they provide support to parents, create a challenging curriculum that prepares students for kindergarten and instruct children in health and safety. They need to find more time for staff development, guarantee service for children with special needs and be assessed annually according to a new grading program. Children will need to be screened for health, social and hygienic needs and assessed for academic gains. Some programs will have to expand their hours of operation. And for the first time, centers will need to pay for a portion of this themselves.

Resistance to the overhaul has grown as its implications have grown clearer. Last August, members of the City Council asked the city to delay the rollout. And earlier this week, DC-37, the union that represents many child-care workers, went to court to seek an injunction against the city’s implementation of EarlyLearn, charging that that overhaul reflected a back-door approach to slashing jobs.

Criticism of the implementation continued today. Advocates said they were relieved that the city had awarded contracts for more child care seats than anticipated but remained distressed by the sweeping cuts that the city has proposed this year.

“Unless we preserve all our childcare seats, we are setting back working families and stealing opportunities from kids in need,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a 2013 mayoral contender. “The mayor needs to match rhetoric with action and stop the downsizing of early education.”

But city officials said today’s contract announcement marked a watershed moment in city child-care history.

“EarlyLearn NYC is the most significant innovation in New York City’s early care and education system in 50 years,” Ronald Richter, commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, said in a statement today. “We will be providing the working families of this City higher quality services in our neighborhoods of greatest need.”