New York City Pre-K Implementation Child Negligence
September 4, 2014
While entirely predictable, the fact that politics continues to be the overriding force in the rollout of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pre-K initiative is nonetheless disheartening. We’ve repeatedly expressed concerns that de Blasio’s rush to fill as many pre-K seats as possible this fall – a rush that, make no mistake, is driven in no small part by a goal of maximizing the number of new dues-paying UFT members as soon as possible without regard to the impact on kids – would compromise quality and endanger children. As it turns out, our fears were well founded.
If you were, like many, off the grid at the end of August, you may have missed that the city’s comptroller Scott M. Stringer went public about the de Blasio administration’s failure to properly oversee contracts with pre-K providers. Stringer revealed that the Education Department had neglected to submit more than 70% of contracts for review. This isn’t just boring i-dotting and t-crossing green eyeshade stuff:
- One vendor, for example, was approved despite having a former employee facing charges for child pornography.
- Another vendor repeatedly failed to have its workers screened through the state’s central register of child abuse reports.
The mayor quickly slapped Stringer back and enlisted high-profile Democratic allies to do the same. Very little acknowledgement was given by anyone that Stringer’s concerns were legit. Former public advocate Mark Green, whom de Blasio beat in a race for public advocate that Green hoped would be his political comeback third term, criticized de Blasio for overreacting. But that’s about as far as any elected official chose to tread.
That doesn’t mean that the problems with NYC pre-K implementation are going away any time soon. Nor does it mean that the comptroller will stand down from taking on the mayor regarding the health and safety of preschool children.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported the inspections required for pre-K facility approvals are a hot mess in part because the comptroller’s office appeared to be setting a higher bar for children’s health and safety than the mayor’s office: “Raquel Pottinger, executive director of Alpha Academy in Queens, said that on Friday a city inspector walked through her site and said outstanding issues were minor, but on Saturday an official from [Stringer’s] comptroller’s office called to urge her to withdraw.”
Some have speculated that Stringer, a Democrat, is taking on de Blasio in preparation for a bid to run against him in 2017. Maybe. But he’s also doing his job at a time when few other Democrats, including public advocate Letitia James (who is also supposed to perform a key oversight role in situations like these), seem inclined to do so.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about very little kids here and that Stringer is pointing at no-brainer issues of potential child abuse, exploitation and exposure to physical danger in a program that’s popular because people think young children will be better off with it. For now, there’s no evidence that Stringer is anything other than on the side of the angels here. Let’s hope more Democrats muster up the courage to join him, because there’s a long, long road ahead before UPK lives up to the hype that hurtled it into the lives of NYC’s children.
Charles Barone has more than 25 years of experience in education service, research, policy, and advocacy. Prior to joining Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) full-time in January of 2009, Barone worked for five years as an independent consultant on education policy and advocacy. His clients, in addition to DFER, included the Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights, the Education Trust, The Education Sector, and the National Academy of Sciences. Read more here.
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