After a wave of backlash, New York City education department tweaks new pre-K and childcare contracts

Facing growing alarm about an overhaul of how preschool and childcare providers are paid, the New York City education department is making significant changes to new contracts that operators must bid on to receive public money.

The changes increase the minimum amount of funding that the operators will receive regardless of their student enrollment, addressing a major concern voiced by providers. But many providers are likely to be disappointed that the contracts continue to leave wide gaps in the salaries paid to pre-K teachers in community-run programs and those in public schools — an issue that nearly led to a strike earlier this month.

Some advocates were encouraged by the city’s moves, which came after elected officials and dozens of providers wrote letters to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the education department to demand changes. Jennifer March, director of the advocacy group Citizens’ Committee for Children, said the tweaks “represent progress.”

“We look forward to working with the administration and the City Council to build on this progress,” she said in an emailed statement.

In an effort to streamline and strengthen services, the education department is in the midst of taking over the city’s subsidized child care programs, which had previously been overseen by the Administration for Children’s Services. As part of the shift, the city in March released a new round of contracts for providers to bid on.

Providers balked at the new contracts, saying they would “starve” programs of funding. The backlash is notable because the city relies on the capacity provided by community providers to make Pre-K for All — the free, universal preschool program launched by the mayor — a reality. De Blasio has made pre-k a major talking point as he travels the country pursuing a presidential bid.

“We’ve heard the voices of community advocates and the council and are committed to ensuring early childhood education providers have the stability and funding they need to put our kids on the path to success inside and outside the classroom,” de Blasio said in an emailed statement.

Changes to the contracts were posted Thursday night. To address concerns about tying funding to monthly student enrollment, the city will now guarantee a larger portion of operators’ budgets.

The city is also providing more guidance regarding the types of indirect costs that public funds can help cover, including rent, furniture, and utilities. Amid concerns that the contract amounts would stay fixed for the eight-year term, the city may boost funding if costs such as labor go up.

With the changes in place, the city is pushing back the deadline for bid submissions by a week, to June 13. Providers who already turned in their bids have until then to make amendments.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson called the changes a “huge win.”

“Community-based early care and education providers helping to raise a new generation of New Yorkers,” he said in an emailed statement. “They deserve all the support we can give them.”

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that the city has previously helped cover operators’ indirect costs. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated those costs were previously not paid for by the city.