NEW YORK—As group after group gets in line to decry funding cuts, the next affected group is perhaps the saddest: preschool children.
New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio visited the Little People’s Retreat Group Day Care in Brooklyn on Thursday and expressed his concerns over the mayor’s decision to cut funding on child care programs.
As each child introduced him or herself, Linnette Ebanks, day care provider of the center, told the public advocate that cuts on funding in the previous years have forced her to shop on coupons and bargains to maintain meals for the children. With limited funding for hiring staff members, her typical work day is 11 hours long, and she calls herself “underpaid and overworked.”
“I’m rich in the fact that I love all these children and work for them wholeheartedly,” said Ebanks, who has worked in her own child care center for 9 years, but, she concluded “we need the funding, the parents need the funding.”
The city faces a $3 billion budget gap and is making cuts across the board, including to publicly provided child care. While other New York cities may or may not provide child care or preschool, many low-income families in the city depend upon it.
Given the circumstances, the mayor’s office defended Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s treatment of child care. The office stated that Bloomberg’s budget restored 16,000 slots for child care programs that were initially put on the chopping block, and that all children enrolled in 2011 will be able to enroll in 2012.
The overall number, however, will shrink since a large number of children currently enrolled will go off to kindergarten and won’t need child care.
The public advocate’s office estimated that a cut of $57 million will lead to the closures of 110 day care centers across the city. If day care centers like the one Ebanks runs closes, the children’s working class parents will either have to struggle with squeezing them into the already limited pool of child care slots or quit their day jobs to stay home with their children.
“Based on my experience, when you lose a child care center, it never comes back,” said de Blasio. “It’s going to harm the communities that have been suffering the whole time.”
Like the Little People’s Retreat, many day care centers focus on giving children the right intellectual preparation for primary school. At age 3-5, the children learn math, spelling, and grammar. Ebanks noted that many of the children who graduate from the center have proceeded to gifted programs and appear better prepared than children who do not attend preschool programs.
“Our programs need real money that can be spent on proper classroom supplies, book and program enhancements, as well as decent wages for the workers and financial support for professional development and training," said an earlier statement by Tammie Miller, chairwoman of the United Federal Teachers’ Family Child Care Providers Chapter.
Miller said that the mayor’s proposed solution of enhancing afterschool programs will not solve the problem. “Preschoolers need to prepare for school. Afterschool does not serve that purpose, nor does it give nutritious meals. Children need stability and continuity of care.”
Increasing costs and decreasing state and federal resources were reasons for the cut on child care, according to the city’s Administration for Children’s Services.“We all understand that it is a difficult time for the city. But as we look more and more into the budget, it is very questionable whether these cuts need to be made. Even if you believe that there is some economy, this is a counterproductive way to do it,” said de Blasio.