NYC may not expand “universal” 3-K program citing shift in demand

New York City says 3-K will stay here — but may not add the seating it deems necessary to expand the program to any family that wants it.

The city doubled down on Friday that officials are not “backing down” on their commitment to free universal preschool for 3-year-olds.

But Department of Education officials told the Post that the program’s future growth was uncertain, and claimed the agency’s early childhood education division has fallen by the wayside under the current government.

“I want to reassure families in New York City that this is absolutely not the case,” School Chancellor David Banks wrote in a letter to the editor of The New York Times on Friday.

The public letter came a week after the outlet published a story about Mayor Eric Adams backing out of an expansion of the popular 3-K for everyone — started under former Mayor Bill de Blasio and contingent on federal incentives running after the Pandemic dry up.

Spokesman Nathaniel Styer said on Friday the agency would not commit to meeting de Blasio’s goal of 60,000 3-K seats — the number the previous government last year said was “universally” needed.

The city has confirmed that Universal 3-K will remain in place.
The city may not add the seats it deems necessary to expand the program to every family that desires it.
Stephen Yang

“That number was generated years ago and demand has changed since then,” Styer told The Post.

The DOE had no more recent figures on how many seats it would need to serve all families wanting the program.

Officials have also repeatedly cited challenges in long-term funding for the program, which has been built with COVID aid set to expire in a couple of years.

“We all agree that we need to find a long-term source of funding for the 3-K program,” Banks said in the Times letter.

“We are committed to this – to ensure that 3-K continues and that we are able to offer all of our families a comprehensive range of great early childhood programmes,” he added.

Instead, the administration is focused on moving seats between neighborhoods — so programs are available where families seek them most.

The city offered 46,000 3-K places last school year and filled about 83% of them, according to the DOE. The agency rolled out an additional 8,000 seats this year in areas that need more capacity.

De Blasio quietly threw his support behind a social media post last week that blasted Adam’s approach. It was the first series of tweets the former mayor has liked since July, when he ended his congressional campaign.

They mentioned different desires and priorities within the department.
Department of Education officials said future growth of the program was uncertain.
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

“We cannot take away the universal component,” read part of a Twitter thread like de Blasio. “To say there are vacancies in certain neighborhoods (according to the current admin) does NOT mean there isn’t demand.”

A de Blasio representative did not respond to the Post’s request on Friday.

The Times letter sparked some doubts among DOE officials on Friday, who worried that early childhood is not a priority for the current administration.

A former key staffer – who resigned from the department of early childhood education this month in frustration at the lack of a full-time position offered – told the Post that there was a steady exodus of staff, creating confusion about who reports to whom.

The employee added that employees had been waiting for an org chart for months, while a budget issue and a sparse finance team meant they hadn’t been able to spend money on most non-personnel expenses since July.

De Blasio started the program and funded it with COVID funds.
The DOE has rescinded de Blasio’s goal of 60,000 3-K seats.
Richard Harbus for the New York Post

“Expansion in early childhood and asserting that there’s something for every kid — high quality for every kid — I think is an important thing that we’ve done in New York City,” the whistleblower said. “It’s annoying to me that we let people come in and just gut it.”

“I think the quality is going to go down on what our kids are experiencing because ultimately we’re not functioning. We’re a mess at headquarters,” she added.

Humberto Cruz-Chavarria, another former key staffer who oversaw multilingual 3-K and pre-K programs until his retirement this summer, suggested his programs be shelved under the “special projects” category in his final months.

“We have to think about the crisis for parents,” said Cruz-Chavarria. “What will parents do if they don’t have access to universal service?”

“It seems like the work is dismantling what was built in the previous administration,” he added.

However, the DOE said the number of employees leaving the department is normal given the broader staffing and management transitions.

The city’s 3-K program includes a mix of educational institutions, including city-contracted daycares, home-based childcare providers, DOE preschools, and state head-start programs.

The Post previously reported that the city owes contracted programs millions of dollars in reimbursements from last year’s school — a delay that puts thousands of families at “great risk” of losing services. NYC may not expand “universal” 3-K program citing shift in demand


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