By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
As part of the city’s full-court press to obtain the funding to roll out Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Universal pre-Kindergarten and after-school programs, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña laid out details of how it would all work at an hours-long City Council hearing on Tuesday.
In answering questions from members of the Education and Women’s Issues Committees, Fariña said one of the city’s goals was maintaining program quality across a variety of pre-K providers and the recruitment and training of early childhood teachers, whose numbers would double under the proposal.
Fariña and Sophia Pappas, Executive Director of Early Childhood Education at the Department of Education (DOE), explained some of the intricacies of the multi-agency system the city hopes to put in place, and spoke about the necessity of a dependable funding stream.
“You understand that by providing free, high-quality, full-day pre-K to an estimated 73,250 four-year olds by the 2015-2016 school year, we have the opportunity to dramatically alter the academic and life paths of our city’s children. You understand that given the importance of pre-K for our children, families and city, we must start this two-year rollout with a significant increase in full-day options starting this coming school year,” Fariña testified.
Fariña told committee members, “significant growth in speech, language, and brain development occurs before kindergarten.
“By getting children into language-rich environments that promote higher-order thinking as soon as possible, pre-K helps develop the critical vocabulary, oral language, and problem-solving skills that serve as a foundation for academic success throughout the remainder of their education.”
She also stressed the importance of after-school programs for middle-schoolers. “Not only do they help our students improve academic performance, they foster community at a critical time in a child’s development.”
On Monday, Mayor de Blasio devoted a significant portion of his State of the City speech to the same topic. The Mayor’s proposal to levy a small tax on city residents earning more than $500,000 a year has acted as a lightning rod for Albany Republicans, who have vowed to block his plan.
Senate Republican Co-leader Dean Skelos has said he won't allow a vote on the proposal in Albany. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to pay for pre-K statewide without a tax hike, but is offering what Democrats say is too little, too late.
On Tuesday, de Blasio rallied with dozens of influential African-American clergy leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, in Brooklyn.
Fariña said the tax was indispensable. “The central challenge is sufficient, sustainable funding. Without multi-year, guaranteed funding, agencies and providers will be unable to secure the quality educators and space necessary to serve every child in New York City.”
The Chancellor and her message received a positive reception from Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Democratic councilmembers, many of whom expressed relief that a professional educator was finally at the helm of the city’s Department of Education (DOE).
Public Advocate Letitia James expressed firm support. Describing 20,000 homeless children in the school system, she urged DOE and the Department of Homeless Services to work collaboratively. “Education levels the playing field – it did for me,” she said. “I stand by Universal pre-K, I stand with Carmen Fariña and I stand with the Mayor.”
Councilmember Daniel Dromm (Queens D-25), in supporting the tax, reminded committee members about the long-overdo $4 billion still owed to the city as its share of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.
Fariña told Dromm, “I have plans already on how to spend that money.”
Councilmember Mark Levine (Manhattan D-7) asked about teacher credentialing.
“We need to retrain teachers, even those with licenses,” Farina said. Pappas spoke of the powerful role of “on-site coaches” in the classroom. We have 40, we’re looking to increase that number.”
Councilmembers Brad Lander (Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Park Slope) and Margaret Chin (Manhattan D-1) expressed support for Universal pre-K but had concerns about already-overcrowded classrooms and districts. “We don’t have enough Kindergarten seats,” said Chin.
Fariña replied, “Everything is on the table . . .We’re having a look at CBOs [Community-Based Organizations], reconstruction.” She added, “It’s not just class size; it’s how much support the teacher in the room gets.”
Councilmembers asked questions about the distribution of pre-K programs across neighborhoods, evaluation systems, and the status of charter schools.
On the topic of charter schools, Fariña said, “It’s a work in progress.”