New York City officials committed Friday to providing funding in the next budget to create pay parity for early childhood education providers across the city, vowing to strike a deal on salaries later this summer.
But as Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson agreed to a handshake deal on next year’s budget, they did not offer specifics on how pay parity would be addressed or a dollar figure for that effort. De Blasio said the budget, which goes into effect July 1 with City Council approval, “promises to create a pathway” to comparable salaries between public school and community-based pre-K providers by early summer, but that labor negotiations are ongoing.
Officials representing the providers, who flanked the mayor and City Council members during a press conference announcing the budget deal Friday, did not immediately respond for comment.
“We’re not giving any dollar figures,” de Blasio said. “What we’re saying is, we’ve got to get to something that everyone can believe in.”
Pre-K parity was a significant priority for the City Council, whose members vowed not to pass a budget without addressing the issue. The pay gap between workers had become a source of criticism for the universal pre-K program, one of the mayor’s signature initiatives that he has touted on the presidential campaign trail.
Providers say they have been beating the drum on equalizing paychecks for years, even before the mayor rolled out universal pre-K. But it was only recently that advocates heard a solid commitment from city leaders to address it.
Gregory Brender, director of children and youth services for United Neighborhood Houses, took Friday’s announcement as a positive development. He said that while the city has been involved in labor negotiations with unionized providers, it didn’t necessarily mean the city would commit to boosting salaries.
“I’m encouraged that there is an acknowledgment of the injustice of this disparity and the commitment to end it,” Brender said. “We’re very excited to be working to make sure that we do address pay disparity.”
The roughly $93 billion budget would also include money for at least 200 new social workers, but the exact number is still unclear (City Hall says 200 at a cost of $26 million, while Councilman Mark Treyger, who was part of the budget negotiations, says 216).
In the past two budget cycles, de Blasio initially cut funding for social workers only to add it back in later. Now, the positions will be baselined — or made permanent — going forward.
“That’s a big story — I don’t have to fight for that” in future budget cycles, said Treyger, who is chairman of the education committee.
Eighty-five of the new social workers will work at high-needs middle schools as part of First Lady Chirlane McCray’s mental health initiative, ThriveNYC, officials said. At least 31 “Bridging the Gap” social workers will be added specifically for schools with higher concentrations of students in temporary housing — an increase that advocates had previously called for — but City Hall and other City Council members offered different figures.
“Increasing the number of school social workers is a real notable step in the right direction,” said Dawn Yuster, director of the School Justice Project at Advocates for Children New York. “We are eager to continue working with the City Council and administration to build on this necessary support for students who desperately need mental health services and behavioral supports.”
Also included in the budget deal: An agreement to provide school bus services for students in foster care, Treyger said, a change that advocates have long called for. He added that the change would not require additional funding in the budget.
Permanent funding of $20 million was added for Teacher’s Choice, which gives teachers $250 to buy classroom supplies, according to a news release from Treyger’s office.
Still, advocates pointed to some areas of the budget that didn’t see any boosts. There is no additional funding for restorative justice programs — which prioritize mediation and other conflict-resolution approaches to keep students in school instead of suspending them.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has said reducing suspensions is a priority, but de Blasio said any new restorative justice efforts would have to come from the education department’s existing budget.
That frustrated Yuster, who said that omission “essentially leaves schools staff without the necessary resources to be able to keep students in the classroom instead of resorting to punitive exclusionary practices, like school suspensions.”