As battle for higher pre-K wages continues, NYC pushes back deadline for contracts

Organizations that want to bid on New York City contracts to provide pre-K services now have until next month to submit their proposals after the city pushed back the deadline in the face of scrutiny from officials and the early childhood education community.

While the city says the extension is designed to give providers more time to grapple with changes to the contracts, advocates hope city leaders will use the window to negotiate a city budget that addresses providers’ biggest concern: the yawning pay gap between pre-K staff at community-based organizations and those inside public schools.

“It gives a great opportunity to the DOE to really make sure they get things right,” said Gregory Bender, director of children and youth services for United Neighborhood Houses, which represents childcare providers.

The extension from Thursday until July 15 follows criticism of the terms of new requests for proposals issued this year after oversight of the publicly funded birth-to-five programs shifted to the education department. Providers bidding on the new contracts were concerned about changes to how children would be enrolled in centers and how they would be paid for their services.

The city originally released contracts for bidding in March but made changes to them late last month, after backlash from pre-K providers, all five borough presidents, and Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The controversy over the contracts came amid the larger debate about the pay gap between teachers who work in community programs compared with educators in district schools, which can run as high as 60% and led to threats of a strike this spring. About 60% of children enrolled in the city’s free Pre-K for All program — which has become a major talking point during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s presidential run — attend privately run programs.

City Council leadership has vowed not to pass a budget unless it closes the salary gap.

The extra time is  “critical” for the programs that want to submit proposals but are contending with the changes, said Jennifer March, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, in a statement. March urged city leaders to use the extra time to negotiate equal pay among providers at community organizations and public schools.

Providers will receive follow-up calls and emails from the education department about the change, said Isabelle Boundy, a spokesperson for the education department.

Those who have already submitted applications can retract their documents and submit new ones, according to the department.