To implement de Blasio's pre-K plan, Dept. of Education faces a formidable to-do list

Updated, 1:05 p.m. with information from today’s testimony.

The idea to expand pre-kindergarten access might have come first from City Hall, but it’s imposing a long to-do list on the Department of Education, according to to the implementation plan released Monday by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

De Blasio told lawmakers in Albany yesterday that the “real obstacle” to the plan is consistent funding, not space or personnel. But the plan illustrates the challenge the department faces in training enough personnel and securing enough space to end up with 53,604 full-day pre-K seats in eight months.

That process begins with a number of tight deadlines. According to the plan, the Department of Education will begin surveying 500 half-day pre-K sites this week to determine whether they can expand to full-day programs. The plan depends on being able to convert more than 11,000 half-day seats to full-day.

The plan also will require many new pre-K locations. But new providers don’t have much more time to strategize, since proposals are due to the city on Feb. 5. (The city says it will be able to draw on past applicants, many of whom were turned down for funding in recent years despite meeting quality requirements, and it will be soliciting proposals for public schools that want to add pre-K starting in February.)

To judge those providers’ applications, the plan says the education department will need to add expert reviewers, though it doesn’t say how many will be needed.

That’s one of a number of roles the department will have to fill to accomplish the plan by September. A spokesperson said the Department of Education would increase its number of instructional coaches, social workers, and other staff to support the plan, but wouldn’t provide specific figures.

Once providers are in place, the city has to relay those details to parents of four-year-olds with a broader promotional campaign than it has used in the past, when it especially targeted high-needs areas and public housing.

And that’s all before addressing the question of what the estimated 53,604 four-year-olds will do, and learn, once they show up for a full-day program next fall.

In his testimony in Albany on Monday, Mayor de Blasio told lawmakers that the city had “begun to develop a teacher pipeline to recruit, train, and provide support for teachers and assistants to staff these classrooms.”

That pipeline appears to consist of plans for partnerships between the Department of Education and universities to recruit more early childhood teachers, pre-K-specific hiring guidelines handed down from the department to pre-K providers, and plans for a five-day summer training program for pre-K teachers.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña has expressed her full support for de Blasio’s pre-K initiative, including in her testimony to state lawmakers today, though she hasn’t made it a main focus of her own public appearances. Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris is overseeing the implementation of the the plan—which de Blasio has made the centerpiece of his first month in office—along with the deputy mayor for health and human services, the commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, and Fariña. But huge swaths of the plan depend on Department of Education personnel, expertise, and space.

“On-site teacher coaches with manageable caseloads” from the DOE will be on hand all year for support and professional development, according to the plan, which also calls for instructional coaches to help pre-K providers with students who don’t speak English. Over the long term, the program will require “investments in research, data and program evaluation” from the department and others to assess its results.

The plan’s architects make clear that the rush to open thousands of new full-day pre-K seats is necessary to address what de Blasio termed an “inequality crisis” in his testimony. Members of de Blasio’s task force have also made clear that pre-K offers immediate benefits for families, since parents can work more hours if their young children are looked after.

“The children we could potentially place in programs this September will not get another chance to have a pre-K experience that sets them up for achievement and increased opportunities later in life,” the plan says.