In the previous blog post, I discussed the city’s initiative, EarlyLearn NYC, to better integrate the Administration for Children’s Services’ (ACS) child care system with the Head Start and Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs, in order to make limited funding more efficient and each program more effective. In the report “Strengthening the Pre-K Investment: Next Steps to a Winning Beginning for Every Child in New York State,” Winning Beginning NY, an early care and learning coalition, emphasizes the importance of programs for New York’s youth. Facts published in the report include:
• In the last 12 years, the Universal Pre-Kindergarten program (UPK), which provided free Pre-K services open to all four year olds, offered in both schools and community programs, showed gains in students’ language, reading and social skills.
• Districts with broader assessment measures also showed gains in emotional adjustment, self-regulation, math, and physical and mental health as a result of the UPK initiative.
• The rate of return to an extra dollar invested in programs targeted towards the earliest years is greater than the rate of return on a dollar invested in programs targeting any older age.
Another pamphlet from Winning Beginning NY stresses that the learning that occurs during a child’s earliest years, such as self-control and the ability to focus, is irreplaceable and crucial to future academic success. This learning, however, cannot take place without the presence of carrying adults and educators, although most young children in New York have no parent at home during the day. Children need successful child care and early education, and only effective policies can provide these necessities. The pamphlet states:
“When times are hard, children are especially vulnerable and policy matters more than ever. It’s not always easy to see the connections between legislators’ policies and a young child’s promise; between what happens in Albany and what happens in playgrounds and pediatrician’s offices around the state. But when they study the children born into these trying times, scientists will make those linkages.”
However, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA) wrote in their EarlyLearn NYC Concept Paper that although they support many aspects of the initiative, they have an equal number of questions and concerns about the program, including:
“…the underlying financial assumptions, the loss of capacity to serve children needing subsidies, the disproportionate impact on smaller community based programs in communities of color, the impact on the family child care system, implications for the unionized workforce, and concerns regarding the Community Needs Assessment’s overwhelming role in resource alignment decisions.”
The FPWA further explains concerns over the external pressures on ACS to move EarlyLearn forward quickly, for doing so will not allow sufficient time to examine these potential issues with the program. The report states:
“There has been a noticeable absence of any risk analysis and potential impact on communities of moving ahead full scale.”
Therefore, as Winning Beginning NYC reveals, steps towards improving child care and early learning in New York City is crucial, and thus, the ideology behind EarlyLearn NYC is good. But as the FPWA points out, if not closely examined and carried out effectively, the gains the program has the potential to achieve may turn into unfortunate losses.