Unprecedented expansion even gets support from former Bloomberg staffers
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The roll-out of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature full-day “Pre-K for All” program is on track, the city said on Thursday, with 50,407 children signed up so far. School starts Sept 4.
The massive effort received applause from state and city officials – and even from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s staffers.
Last year, only 20,000 children received full-day pre-K.
Teams of canvassers have worked all summer to connect with families of 4-year-olds, the city said. According to Department of Education (DOE) figures, roughly 53,000 kids will be signed up by the October 1st deadline for final registration.
“We have great classrooms that have been pored over and prepared at every level. We have great teachers who have received extra training and support. And today, it’s clear we have the children who are ready to learn,” de Blasio said in a statement.
On Wednesday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer complained that his office had received only 141 of more than 500 contracts for pre-K service providers, “preventing a complete, independent review and registration of over 70 percent of UPK contracts in advance of the first day of school.”
Several problems are “directly tied to the safety and security of our children,” Stringer said. These included a vendor that had a former employee who was charged with conspiracy to commit child pornography, as well as a vendor that had six violations issued for failing to have personnel screened with the city’s Central Register of Child Abuse and Mistreatment.
Stringer said that the city has since been able to provide documentation to prove that those problems were addressed, however.
Former Bloomberg staffers defended the rollout, saying it is a normal practice for providers to offers services before the paperwork is complete.
“As a former Chief of Staff to the Mayor, I know that the formality of contract registration often happens after a program is already underway,” Peter Madonia, former Chief of Staff to Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement.
Marla Simpson, executive director of Brooklyn Community Services and former New York City Chief Procurement Officer and Director of the Mayor's Office of Contract Services under Mayor Bloomberg also backed the mayor.
“It is common practice for providers to offer services before contracts are fully in place. And the registration of contracts a purely ministerial function of the Comptroller's Office,” she said.
“All vetting, licenses, safety requirements, and the approval that an organization can supervise children is thoroughly accomplished by NYC agencies and is 100 percent a mayoral function. The responsibility for health and safety is at the Mayor's office, not with the Comptroller,” Simpson added.
The city has put enormous efforts behind getting the program up and running in a short time period. The launch has involved agencies beyond the DOE, which oversees the programs. These include the FDNY, Health Department, Buildings Department, Department of Investigations and the Administration for Children’s Services.
Of the 50,407 kids enrolled, 19,235 are enrolled in regular district schools and 31,172 will attend community-based pre-Ks of the type offered by churches and community organizations. The city hired and trained 1,000 new teachers this year.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement on Thursday that there was still time for families with 4-year-olds to apply. “As a grandmother, I am proud that the academic careers of more than 50,000 New York City schoolchildren will begin next week. Our children will have fun and enriching new experiences, build their vocabularies, and get on track to be ready for kindergarten and a lifetime of learning.”
Officials from across the state and the city issued statements commending the rapid launch of the program.
“In this year’s state budget, we committed $300 million to New York City for the coming school year and $1.5 billion over the next five years, and news that the city has been able to fill more than 50,000 seats in just a few short months is proof positive that our efforts have been worth it,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“As we move towards September, I commend the administration on more than doubling pre-kindergarten seats in throughout the City of New York,” said Public Advocate Letitia James.
“Providing every child with universal, high-quality pre-K and after-school programs is simply the right thing to do. I am proud to have supported Mayor de Blasio’s plan from the outset,” said Congressman Jerrold Nadler.
“Early childhood education is a transformative tool for every young person, whether they grow up in Brownsville, Brooklyn Heights, or any point in between. Social science and anecdotal evidence alike confirm that activating a child's mind as early as possible results in a more prosperous future,” Borough President Eric Adams said.