Hundreds of child care providers like Iraida Tkacheva are affected by the EarlyLearn initiative.
On a cool Friday afternoon, 10 bright-eyed toddlers played outdoors, giggling and speaking Russian, before heading inside for a homemade lunch. During the week, they spend more time with Iraida Tkacheva, their child-care provider, than they do with their working parents.
Tkacheva has transformed nearly every room in her Bensonhurst house to cater to the children's needs: an area with tables and chairs where the toddlers eat, a library full of children's books, a nap area surrounded by walls plastered with educational posters, and a backyard that accommodates toys for playtime with security gates and enclosed circuit cameras to ensure the children's safety at all times.
Yet once the mayor’s ambitious overhaul of the city’s child-care system takes place on October 1, through a program called EarlyLearn, Tkacheva and hundreds of people who offer subsidized child-care in their homes are set to lose their jobs if funding falls through.
EarlyLearn – one of Bloomberg's latest education reforms before he leaves office next year – sets out to increase the quality of publicly funded early childhood education while distributing child-care slots to the neediest neighborhoods. It is, according to some advocates, the biggest change to the city’s child-care services in 40 years.
Criticism of EarlyLearn has focused on the fact that it reduces the overall number of early childhood seats. But another major change — about who the city is hiring to provide child care in private homes — has some child-care advocates concerned.
At a LYFE center at Urban Academy. Picture by ##http://flickr.com/photos/rreid/##Los Dragonnes## via Flickr.
A report out today by the New York Civil Liberties Union says the Department of Education should bolster its daycare program for students with young children of their own. But because of budget cuts, the DOE could actually move in the opposite direction, cutting off young parents' access to free DOE-run daycare centers currently housed in 40 public schools across the city.
The programs, called LYFE centers, have existed since 1982. Last year, after the city eliminated special schools just for pregnant and parenting teens, saying that the schools were academically weak, the LYFE centers became the centerpiece of the DOE's services for young parents.
Now the centers could also be on the chopping block, a possibility that has one editor of the report worried.
Without the LYFE centers, "the DOE would lack any real meaningful services for this very high-risk population," Galen Sherwin, director of NYCLU's Reproductive Rights Program, told me. "The outcome would be devastating."
The LYFE centers have already taken a hit from the faltering economy.