De Blasio allies push him to act on pre-K pay disparity

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The mayor visits a dance class at Boys and Girls Harbor. (Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)
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A coalition of education advocates and pre-kindergarten providers are redoubling their push for Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund pay parity between teachers at all pre-K and day care centers in New York City.

De Blasio and his allies have heralded the city's pre-K expansion as a nearly unmitigated success. But the pay parity issue has divided him from many of his most essential supporters in the world of early childhood education, and threatens to damage the continued expansion of the program in future years.

Pre-K and day care teachers at community-based organizations (CBOs) make less money and have fewer benefits than their pre-K counterparts at Department of Education schools. The disparities are vast: DOE pre-K teachers can make up to $91,000 with a master's degree and 20 years of experience, while CBO teachers with identical credentials can earn up to $50,000. There is a second gap between pre-K and day care teachers, even within CBO settings.

The issue has plagued early childhood educators for years but has been exacerbated by flood of new teachers entering the system under the city's pre-K expansion.

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A group of dozens of pre-K providers and advocacy organizations sent de Blasio a letter last week asking him to address the pay disparity.

"We urge you to take immediate action to achieve salary parity for the early childhood workforce," their letter reads. "Disparities between similarly qualified teachers in EarlyLearn [day care] and pre-K programs have grown."

The coalition includes many of de Blasio's closest allies in the early education world, raising the stakes for the mayor — among them the Bank Street College of Education, the special education advocacy group Advocates for Children, the Children's Aid Society and large pre-K providers including the Henry Street Settlement and United Neighborhood Houses. The leaders of those organizations lobbied in Albany on behalf of de Blasio's pre-K plan.

Public Advocate Letitia James also recently highlighted the pay parity issue in a report calling on the city to lower the cost of child care. 

The de Blasio administration has taken some steps to mitigate the disparities, setting aside $17 million from the city's pre-K budget to address them and offering signing and retention bonuses for teachers.

Correcting the salary and benefit disparities fully would be enormously expensive for the city; de Blasio fought for months for the $300 million in annual pre-K funds he eventually secured in Albany. 

Advocates say the mayor's attempts to lessen the disparities are not enough and argue that many early childhood teachers still live in poverty. 

"The inequalities in compensation often mean the difference between living in poverty or not, and many staff in EarlyLearn programs depend on food stamps, Medicaid and other government programs to fill the gaps created by inadequate wages," the letter reads.

Nadia Alexander, a 42-year-old day care teacher at Magical Years Early Childhood Center in Brooklyn, only makes $30,000. A single mother, Alexander said she is working to get certified but can only afford to take one course per semester.

"I'm most definitely considering leaving teaching," she said in a recent interview.

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for de Blasio, responded to the letter in a statement: “Step by step, we’ve been working to increase compensation in this vital field, and to provide the professional development and higher education needed to build the best system of early educators. Since taking offer, we’re increased base salaries at [CBOs], created new programs for all early educators to acquire new credentials, and applied new resources to ensure all non-profits that contract with the City pay a Living Wage.”

Read the Campaign for Children letter here: http://politi.co/1POEiLf