Early childhood education providers call for equal pay as pre-K programs grow

Early childhood education providers rallied at City Hall on March 20 to call for salary parity. 
Early childhood education providers rallied at City Hall on March 20 to call for salary parity.  Photo Credit: Sylvain Gaboury/PMC/Sylvain Gaboury

As the city works to offer pre-K classes to all children, a coalition of early childhood education providers is calling for pay equality between their staffs and public school teachers.

Community-based organizations, such as settlement houses and other social service groups, educate thousands of children across the five boroughs as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s flagship pre-K initiatives.

“The city relies on our sector to provide pre-K classrooms,” said Susan Stamler, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, which includes 40 settlement houses in the city. “Sixty percent of programs currently serving 4-year-olds are taking place in community-based settings.”

Though these community groups are independent from the city, the programs they offer are largely funded by city contracts.

“The way that [the city] contracts with settlement houses and other community-based organizations only allows them to pay salaries that are much lower than the salary you’d get doing the same job in a public school,” said Gregory Brender, UNH’s policy analyst. 

On average, a starting salary for teachers in settlement houses is about $34,000, while the average starting salary for a public school teacher is about $56,700, according to a report released by UNH in March.

Because of the pay gap, many of the organizations see a high turnover of staff and lose teachers to Department of Education jobs.

“We can’t blame them because it’s such a big salary difference,” said Mary Cheng, director of childhood development services at the Chinese-American Planning Council, Inc., which has six centers that offer early childhood education to more than 300 students. 

Teachers often complete study programs with the Chinese-American Planning Council, but leave when they are certified, Cheng said. 

“We’re just not able to retain those qualified staff members, and what that impacts is really the quality of care that children are getting,” she said.

The lack of salary parity has been an issue for years, but has come up recently because the de Blasio administration is restructuring the early education system so that contracts for all programs, for children from birth to 5 years old, are managed by the DOE. Currently, the Administration for Children’s Services oversees contracts for some programs.

Providers responding to governmental requests for proposals (RFP) will be awarded contracts, but in a letter to the mayor on April 25, dozens of community-based organizations said the new RFPs do not address the issue of salary parity. They called on de Blasio to withdraw the RFPs and start over.

“The RFPs advanced by the Department of Education starve the early education system of sorely needed investments,” they wrote.

When reached for comment, the mayor’s office pointed to what de Blasio said when he released his budget on April 25.

“We want to find ways to help them. We are in constant discussion,” he said when asked about pre-K providers threatening to strike. “We are in dialogue and we are trying to get to a long-term outcome that could work for everybody.”

Advocates for salary parity rallied at City Hall on March 20.
Advocates for salary parity rallied at City Hall on March 20. Photo Credit: United Neighborhood Houses

A strike was called off on April 30, with city and pre-K union representatives agreeing to meet next week.

In an op-ed article in Medium on April 3, Jaclyn Rothenberg, the former first deputy press secretary for de Blasio, said the administration has increased pay for teachers at community-based organizations “substantially.”

“One of our first actions was to increase starting salaries at community-based organizations by roughly $10,000,” she wrote, but she added that the administration knows “there’s still more work to be done.”

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