Day Care Cuts Create Overcrowded Kindergartens

by Leslie Minora

The Williamsbridge NAACP day care lost one classroom of students when the city cut kindergarten classes out of city-funded day cares. Photo by Leslie Minora

The Williamsbridge NAACP day care lost one classroom of students when the city cut kindergarten classes out of city-funded day cares. Photo by Leslie Minora

When school opened this fall, Chrystal Deans was forced to move her 5-year-old daughter from the Williamsbridge NAACP Early Childhood Education Center where she would have attended kindergarten, to P.S. 21, six blocks away, where class sizes are larger and the day is three hours shorter.

The move, mandated by a new Bloomberg policy to lower city costs, pushed kindergarten children like Deans’s daughter Kyla out of city day care centers and into public schools. It has meant that Kyla can no longer attend the day care until 6 p.m., a service that Kyla enjoyed and Deans needs when she stays late at her college or has an afternoon appointment.

“I don’t trust just anyone with my kid,” said Deans, who now has to scramble to arrange childcare. She added that Kyla used to come home from day care sharing learning experiences like which letter of the alphabet began her name, but that she no longer says these things. Deans is afraid that Kyla has slipped through the cracks in kindergarten because she is a quiet child in a large class.

At P.S. 21, the early childhood classes have on average 29 children, five more than is contractually allowed. “They don’t have enough time for the kids because there are just too many kids in the classroom,” said Deans.

The principal of P.S. 21 said kindergarten registration is the highest she has seen. “For the first time we just kept accepting more children than we usually do,” said Principal Joyce Coleman.  Coleman said the Department of Education has urged her to accept as many children as possible, and she wants to accommodate as many families as she can.

As part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s many shifts in education management, the New York City Administration for Children’s Services, which oversees city day care centers, closed all kindergarten classrooms in its city-funded day care centers as of Sept. 2009, shifting as many as 3,200 students to public school kindergartens.

Now, many kindergartens have class sizes that are several students higher than the norm and double-digit waiting list numbers, meaning many children are still not enrolled in kindergarten, which is not mandatory in New York City. “Most of the parents don’t have a lot of options,” said Coleman. “They’re working parents.” The situation hits particularly hard in the Bronx, where 41 percent of children are living below the poverty line, compared to 27 percent in Manhattan.

Even with the larger class sizes, Principal Coleman estimates that 15 to 20 children are still on the kindergarten waiting list at P.S. 21. If children are turned away from their local public school, they will eventually be placed elsewhere. Coleman expects bussing from P.S. 21 to other kindergartens to begin soon.

Phyllis Forde, a Northeast Bronx resident brings her 5-year-old grandson to the South Bronx for kindergarten so that her daughter can go to work in the North Bronx. She considers her situation lucky because she was able to get him into a kindergarten near her workplace, the Gwendolyn B. Bland Day Care on 163rd St., where she is the director.

Forde goes slightly out of her way to get her grandson to kindergarten, but she faces much larger problems when she arrives at the day care. “I am grossly under-enrolled,” she said. Her facility had 97 children on Sept. 1, about a week before the Administration for Children’s Services moved kindergartners out of day cares, and her enrollment was 67 as of the last week of October.

“I think Mr. Bloomberg is not concerned with working poor parents,” she said. “I don’t think childcare is a priority in the city of New York.”

This dramatic drop in enrollment is a huge issue for Forde and many other day care directors because of another city program, Project Full Enrollment. The Administration of Children’s Services reported that the program, which went into effect September of last year, will allocate funding to city day cares according to the number of children enrolled, instead of the program’s budgeted capacity.

“This is just overwhelming now,” Forde said. “I hold the cards of my teachers in my hands.” Forde and all other city-funded day care directors are responsible for enrollment and registration in addition to the daily management of their facilities. The Administration of Children’s Services had employees dedicated to enrollment and registration in the past, but the responsibilities on the day care directors have gradually and steadily increased without compensation as the Administration laid off its enrollment employees in recent years.

The Williamsbridge NAACP Early Childhood Education Center faces similar enrollment issues. This facility had 84 students as of the last week of October, and full enrollment is 100, according to Executive Director, Cheryl Dewitt. “The crunch is on,” she said. A federal bail-out has saved many day care jobs, including those of one teacher and one administrative worker at the NAACP day care that were on the Administration’s chopping block at the end of 2008. The bailout extends through March 31, 2010, at which point there is further uncertainty.

Forde, Dewitt, and two directors from the National Council of Negro Women Child Development Center all made it clear that the extra space due to the kindergarten policy change is not due to lack of demand for day care. The requirements for city-funded day care have become stricter as of this past summer, Forde said. Parents who have lost their jobs and parents who are looking for jobs do not qualify, she said. Parents who are sick and need dialysis or chemotherapy treatments are also ineligible for day care.

This intricate back-and-forth of day care enrollment numbers and overcrowding of public school kindergartens comes in the wake of encouraging promises made by city administrations. The Department of Education’s Five Year Class Size Reduction Plan, approved by the New York State Education Department in Nov. 2007 plainly states, “the current capital plan has explicitly included K-3 class size reduction as a target…In addition, the Department continues to be committed to reducing class size in the early grades (i.e., grades K-3) via the Early Grade Class Size Reduction program.” Three years remain in the five-year plan, but the system is currently working against itself if the kindergarten situation is any indication.

An Administration for Children’s Services representative could not be reached, but the press office offered a statement that said, “The $62 million deficit in our child care budget means that we have had to make budgetary and programmatic changes in

order to continue serving as many families with young children as possible, many of whom have no other options while their parents work. We can no longer afford to offer the option used by some parents until now to enroll their 5-year olds in Children’s Services contracted child care centers.”

With two terms completed and other possible term on the horizon, Bloomberg has not made many friends in the day care business, and has not yet delivered on the plan to shrink kindergarten class sizes. Yet, Dewitt of the NAACP day care said, “The bottom line is we never like to give up.”

2 Responses to “Day Care Cuts Create Overcrowded Kindergartens”

  1. avatar Cheryl Dewitt says:

    Thank you to Ms. Leslie Minora for this well written article documenting the current issues faced at our ACS Early Chilhood Programs. I along with my colleagues whom were interviewed all share the sentiment and commitment to continuing to speak up and speak out against cuts, policies which effect the families and children we serve. In addition to speaking about the problems we are also committed to being active; finding solutions; all the Mayor, City Council Members and all other policy/decision makers need do is ask for our input, our cooperation and we will comply for we reman dedicated to our commitment of providing QUALTIY early childhood services to our children.
    Thank you,
    Cheryl Dewitt
    Executive Director
    Williamsbridge NAACP Early Childhood Education Center

  2. Although I would’ve appreciated it further if you included a relevant video or at least images to support the description, I still found your article quite helpful. It is usually difficult to make a problematic matter seem very easy. I enjoy your blog and will subscribe for your feed so I will not miss anything. Awesome articles


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