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A Fairer New York City Requires Salary Parity for the Early Childhood Workforce


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(photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)


At his State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio pointed to the expansion of universal prekindergarten for New York City four-year-olds and the expansion of 3-K as an integral part of his administration’s commitment to making New York City “the fairest big city in the country.”

While listening to the mayor’s speech – and the attention he paid to the success of universal pre-K and the new 3-K expansion – child advocates and educators in the audience found ourselves wanting to shout out ‘Salary parity now!’

To date, the cornerstone of the city’s ambitious early education efforts has been these extensions of public schooling to four- and three-year-olds. Enrollment in universal pre-K for four-year-olds is up over 350 percent since the mayor took office and 94 percent of universal pre-K classrooms are meeting nationally recognized standards for positive classroom conditions and child outcomes. The mayor pointed out in his address, “Pre-K and 3-K classrooms are jumpstarting children’s education and putting thousands of dollars in parents' pockets at the same time.”

For the children and families who benefit from these programs, there is no doubt that such progress is meaningful.

Yet, the ability to fully celebrate this important milestone is tarnished by the mayor’s failure to achieve salary fairness for early educators.

Those of us who have been championing the mayor’s early education proposals for years, even prior to his days in the City Council, and who have forcefully advocated to help secure the state resources necessary to make universal pre-K a reality feel betrayed.

We are forced to ask again and again, why hasn’t the de Blasio administration secured salary parity for the early childhood workforce?  

In 2014 the de Blasio administration launched universal prekindergarten and engaged over 1,000 community-based organizations (CBOs) with a history of providing high-quality child care and preschool services to the city’s poorest children, with the opportunity to offer pre-K. These organizations operate separately from K-12, public Department of Education (DOE) schools. Their workers are represented by different unions and some workers have no representation. Because these CBOs provide more than half of all UPK classrooms citywide, they have had and continue to play a critical role in the de Blasio administration’s most well-regarded achievement — one through which he seeks to acquire a national reputation.

Importantly, the CBOs are not only responsible for the majority of universal pre-K classrooms in New York City, they also offer working parents programming for longer hours than their counterparts at DOE schools. The teachers and staff in CBOs often work into evenings and through summer months when most DOE classrooms are shuttered or teachers are on vacation. Yet, despite longer days and year-round work, CBO early educators earn far less than their DOE peers.

CBO early educators that hold a bachelor’s degree earn a starting salary of just over $42,000 and those with a master’s degree earn a starting salary of nearly $48,000; compared to starting salaries of nearly $58,000 and just over $65,000 for prekindergarten teachers with bachelor’s or master’s degrees, respectively, at DOE schools based on an updated salary progression that goes into effect this month.

Salary disparities widen over time as CBO early educators typically see their salaries rise by approximately $2,800 over the course of eight years; whereas DOE early educators see their annual pay rise by $20,000 during the same period.  

In the mayor’s recently-released 2020 preliminary budget, funding for various education initiatives would see increases – including a $25 million increase from last year to expand universal 3-K to two new districts for next school year. The preliminary budget also makes a $316 million investment in new collective bargaining costs related to United Federation of Teachers (UFT) teacher salaries in 2020, an investment that grows to $829 million annually in the out-years of the budget plan.

There is no investment in the mayor’s budget in pay parity for the workforce in community-based organizations.

Because compensation levels are so unequal, turnover rates are high in CBO pre-K and 3-K. The Day Care Council of New York reports that half of CBOs lost teachers to the DOE in the first year of universal pre-K alone. As turnover issues persist, many pre-K students in CBOs find their learning environments destabilized at some point during the year.

So, one should ask: how can we in good conscience celebrate the success of universal pre-K and new 3-K expansion efforts while early educators in CBOs earn $15,000 to $35,000 less than their DOE peers?

We also know that women of color are the primary victims of this profound inequity in compensation. There is no mistake that the achievement of salary parity, for them, would be life-altering. Just think what an increase of $15,000 to $35,000 in salary would mean to their pocketbooks and their own capacity to address their household needs.

Furthermore, parity would bring program stability to CBOs and the early education system overall, benefitting children and parents who rely on these programs.

Finally, in July of this year, DOE will acquire responsibility for all contracted early education programs, family day care, and child care centers, currently overseen by the Administration for Children’s Services. In preparation for that transition, the DOE is about to rebid the entire early education system this winter with the goal of having new contracts in place for infant and toddler care, Head Start, and universal prekindergarten and 3-K by 2020. Indeed, the transition has been touted by the DOE as an opportunity to build a seamless early education system for New York City’s children from birth to five years of age.

Mayor de Blasio is seeking to solidify his place as a progressive rising star of national importance by pointing to New York City’s continued progress on early education as illustrative of how to make big cities fairer. It is critical that he brings true fairness to the city’s early education workforce and makes salary parity a reality. There is no greater opportunity to ensure that the city’s children are prepared for school success than by equitably compensating the workforce that supports and nurtures their growth.

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Jennifer March, PhD., is the executive director of Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York. On Twitter @JenMarchCCC and @CCCNewYork.

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