Mayor de Blasio and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer tangled yesterday over Universal Pre-K, one of the mayor’s signature initiatives. More than 50,000 kids (4-year-olds) are expected to take part in the program when it debuts next week. Wednesday night, Stringer complained that more than 70% of the contracts had not yet been received for review by his office. The mayor pushed back in a big way and numerous elected officials and other prominent supporters came to the administration’s defense.
Among those defenders on the Lower East Side were Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who said:
…Working with Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and my Assembly Democratic colleagues we are finally on the verge of realizing (the dream of Universal Pre-K). 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. Setting up this program is a tremendous undertaking, and I am confident that Mayor de Blasio and his team are carefully scrutinizing each and every pre-k center to ensure the highest-quality and safest environment for our children.
And Alan van Capelle, the president and CEO of the Educational Alliance:
…We applaud the de Blasio administration’s efforts to put kids first by transforming UPK education in our city. As a provider of UPK services on the Lower East Side, we have witnessed firsthand the priority and serious attention the administration is placing on our children’s health and safety. To assert otherwise is disingenuous.
Here’s a bit more context from the LES perspective. This neighborhood, which has an abundance of large, non-profit organizations with decades of experience running early childhood programs, seems well prepared to add pre-k seats.
At the Educational Alliance, the new program provided funding for 18 new seats at the Manny Cantor Center on East Broadway. In addition, it made possible the expansion of 157 half-day seats at four locations throughout the LES to full-day slots. In an interview yesterday afternoon, van Capelle said the organization had approval to begin operations next week; it was just waiting for a final green light from the city. He also said that publicity from the comptroller’s statement had not resulted in a flurry of phone calls from concerned parents. Van Capelle said he believed it is a monumental achievement to have enrolled 50,000 children in the new program adding, “it’s incumbent on all city agencies, including the comptroller’s office, to work together in order to expedite as many contracts as possible.”
Another LES non-profit group, Grand Street Settlement, has also been able to add 18 new pre-k seats as a result of the new initiative. The additional slots are over-and-above the organization’s Early Learn Program, which last year served 242 children. A spokesperson for Grand Street Settlement expressed confidence that the early childhood staff is prepared to accommodate the new students.
If you are interested in checking out available pre-k programs on the Lower east Side, here’s the link.