Since February, when the mayor issued his preliminary budget, the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) has been busy notifying over 11,000 parents of their plans to scale back a program that has allowed them to work or remain in agency-approved training while the city paid someone else to watch their kids.
As a consequence, over 16,000 children will be cut off by September, mostly from low-income families receiving ACS-contracted daycare or vouchers funding after-school programs.
Parents have until then to find alternative arrangements for their children, ACS spokeswoman Elysia Carnavale-Murphy says.
Under the sweeping plan, an estimated 600 teachers and teacher-aides will also be laid off, as at least 197 classrooms shut down.
Sixteen daycare centers are also facing the chopping block or have been axed in recent months, according to Arlene Cauley, director of the Sheldon Weaver Day Care Center in Far Rockaway, Queens.
Carnavale-Murphy denies that any centers will be forced to shut because of the cuts proposed in February. But, she adds in a statement to City Limits, "there are several programs that are scheduled to close by June of this year as a result of a budget reduction initiative proposed in last year's budget process."
City cites higher costs
Carnavale-Murphy says that sharp reductions in state and federal aid in recent years, as well as increasing costs at participating centers, were driving the childcare agency to make difficult decisions.
The coming fiscal year will see a $29 million decrease in federal stimulus funds, she says. Increasing insurance costs for unionized teachers and more children entering the system were also factors in the agency's decision.
"The city must take action to address the more than $90 million budget shortfall caused by rising costs as state and federal resources have not kept pace. We are dealing with this by ensuring that our limited resources are used to support the families who need it the most," she adds.
In the interim, the agency will be helping families affected to find alternative programs, she says, including the federal Head Start or the city's Out-of-School Time.
However, that plan has many childcare advocates and families fuming. Gregory Brender, a policy analyst at United Neighborhood Houses, warns that neither program holds out much promise of an affordable alternative come September.
"Head Start has strict income guidelines. Most families must live below 130 percent of federal poverty guidelines. Furthermore, eligible families are not guaranteed Head Start slots. They would need to find a vacant seat," he says.
Meanwhile, the transfer of almost 10,000 school-age children from ACS-subsidized care to the Out of School Time after-school program (OST), he says, will "overwhelm" OST, which itself is facing a loss of 8,800 slots being cut to save the city over $13.2 million.
"If these cuts are enacted, the school-aged children terminated from child care could take up as much as 46 percent of slots, leaving less than 13,000 slots for all the other school-aged children," he said.
He calls the cuts a "huge burden on low-income working families," especially if they quit their jobs without an affordable alternative.
Parents forced to quit?
Pascuala Cintron, who has two daughters, aged seven and two, in city care, says she received her termination notice from ACS last month. She says that she has been having trouble finding an alternative because she earns $22,000 annually, slightly above the maximum requirements for many federal and state programs.
By July, Cintron may have to quit her supermarket job of 15 years, she says. She calls on the mayor to reconsider. "If you make all of these cuts, what are we to do with our children? I hope you find the money and stop all these cuts," she says.
Corinthia Carter, a graduate student and mother of four, says that she expects herself to be a stay-at-home mom if the September plans are implemented.
The absence of an affordable alternative, she says, will mean more than just the removal of her kids from the system of subsidized childcare. It will also put the brakes on her plans to attend law school next year.
Not far from her Brooklyn home, she sees symbols of a city far from financial distress. "If Bloomberg has the money to clean up the waterfront and for other real estate projects, he has money for this," she says. "There's got to be money floating around somewhere."
The impact of parents staying at home will be two-fold, daycare providers say: Families will lose income and the influence of trained educators.
Children schooled at home by parents without any vocational training probably won't get the kind of cognitive-development skills taught by experienced teachers, says Esperanza Eclipse, who runs the Martin Luther King Daycare Center in Queens. As a consequence, many may find themselves playing catch-up when they enter first grade, she adds.
"Some parents don't know how to implement language skills. At this center [children] learn how to count, how to recognize letters of the alphabet and learn social skills," Eclipse says.
Since the cuts target larger centers with three classrooms or more, Eclipse's two-room site, which has been running for over 40 years, won't see any reduction in size under the cuts announced with the mayor's preliminary budget in February. But the rumors about the city's executive budget, due out in April, make her worry. She has heard of additional snips in the range of between 10 and 20 percent. Either figure makes her wince: Less money in the coming fiscal year will mean children inside the Flushing center stay stuck inside, all day, as extracurricular activities, such as trips to science museums, face the chopping block.
Although the agency would not put a figure on the looming cuts, Carnavale-Murphy confirmed that the mayor's executive budget will show an "across the board cut to contracted child-care programs."
Some centers threatened
The Sheldon Weaver Day Care Center, which has also been open for over 40 years, takes care of 60 children. Unless the city rethinks its recent cuts, director Arlene Cauley says, it will close by June, as the city terminates the building's lease and lays off its staff of nine teachers.
The news comes on the heels of previous cuts that have seen the pre-K daycare center shrink in size to five classrooms in recent years, including the loss of its kindergarten following city budget reductions in 2009.
Cauley, who has an advanced degree in early childhood education, calls the mayor's move a "travesty" and urges the Bloomberg administration to find the funds before the City Council votes on the budget in June. "Studies show that kids coming from early childhood educational backgrounds do far better than children taught at home," she says.
The center, which faced termination of the agency's contract last year, remains afloat, in large part due to a successful petition-drive and vocal opposition from members of the City Council, saving it at the eleventh hour. More protests are in the works.
The proposed cuts, which follow the loss of 14,000 child-care slots in 2006, have a broad coalition up in arms. At a March 23 meeting inside the offices of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies in midtown Manhattan, members of the Emergency Coalition to Save Child Care were busy strategizing ahead of an April 6 protest on the steps and sidewalks of City Hall.
Andrea Anthony, executive director of the Day Care Council of New York, told the meeting that members of the City Council were being put on notice by the committee and are being asked to close ranks in opposing the mayor.
She told the 30-plus crowd that despite the lack of media attention, "things are happening." While "they haven't heard from us yet," she promised city leaders and local politicians that "they will."
"We must show them that we aren't going to take this anymore," she said.
The coalition was recently formed by a broad network of local unions, childcare advocates and parents and has hired the PR firm of Berlin and Rosen, which has ties to labor groups and the office of State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
At the two-hour meeting, petitions and leaflets targeting the mayor's office and the desk of Council Speaker Christine Quinn were handed out, intended to rally communities across the city as a showdown with the administration looms. (Speaker Quinn's office did not respond to questions requesting her views on the cuts.)
The move has already drawn the ire of some politicians across the city and boroughs, including Bronx Councilwoman, Annabel Palma, and Chair of the General Welfare Committee. In a statement outside City Hall last week, she said the cuts as marking " the latest assault by this administration on the city's child-care system."
Palma was joined by Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio, who said the administration's proposed budget places "far too great a burden on New York City's most vulnerable."