Making an ‘Impact’ on child care

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North Brooklyn child care professionals pondered their next step as two City Council resolutions seeking to slow changes in funding the city’s child care programs proposed by the Administration from Children Services (ACS) have been gaining momentum in the City Council.

“Children and families we represent feel disempower­ed,” said Larry Provette, director of the Stagg Street Day Care Center (77-83 Stagg Street) in Bushwick. “They don’t know where to turn.”

More than 50 child care program directors and representatives of centers attended Bushwick Impact’s Local Design Team meeting last week to discuss the implications of ACS’s proposed regulations and the City Council resolutions.

ACS’s plan, Project Full Enrollment, aims to tie city funding to a child care center’s level of enrollment and attendance during the year, instead of paying for a center’s fixed costs of operations such as staff salaries, rent and utilities. Centers that have below 85 percent enrollment throughout the year could risk relocation or closure.

“Every center will have a big drop in September but centers typically over the whole year get fully enrolled by March or April,” said Sandy Socolar, an analyst with local DC1707, a union of child care professionals. “The Bushwick centers have been well enrolled but recertification has been messed up. Even centers that have not lowered the starting age to 2.0 from 2.9 have been able to stay fully enrolled.”

ACS argues the new funding formula, linked with the launch of an online enrollment system, will make the management of child care more efficient. Child care professionals and union representatives believe that the Full Enrollment plan is effectively pressuring child care centers to try harder and punishing those with vacancies which may be due to factors beyond their control, such as child sickness, income eligibility changes, or increased enrollment in the city’s universal pre-kindergarten program.

“In order to have 90 percent attendance, we need one hundred percent full enrollment. It’s a totally unworkable plan. Children will be sick at different times of the year,” said Frieda Spivack, director of Ace Head Start (1419 Broadway) in Bushwick.

Brooklyn Councilmem-bers Letitia James and Diana Reyna, along with Councilmember Bill de Blasio, introduced twin resolutions to address concerns over Project Full Enrollment.

De Blasio’s bill calls for an analysis of enrollment during the year while James and Reyna are proposing a moratorium on any change in the payment system. Both resolutions will be introduced in the Council’s General Welfare Committee later this month.

“We’re asking ACS to pause, sit down with centers, and understand these changes locally,” Reyna said. “Unless ACS [updates its system] to the 21st century, we can’t expect these centers to open their arms and ask what they’re expected to do from ACS.”

Socolar and Bushwick Impact staff members urged child care professionals to lobby their council members to support the resolutions, continue to challenge the plan, and let parents know that the income ceilings for federal poverty guidelines are increasing in June, which will affect enrollment. Socolar also mentioned additional proposals to raise income ceilings to help a broader range of working families enroll their children in child care programs and keep centers open in communities that have elementary schools with low achievement scores in reading and math.

Over the summer, Bushwick Impact will launch a survey to local child care providers to collect demographic information and data relating to child care programs in the neighborhood. In the meantime, Impact has been helping child care centers with enrollment issues and advising parents on choosing the right child care program for their children next year.

“We need to do something,” said Cynthia Velez, a parent coordinator at Bushwick Impact. “We see parents every day who need child care and we see children every day who need a head start.”

For more information about Bushwick Impact, visit www.bushwickimpact.org.

Updated 3:46 pm, October 19, 2011
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