Raising a family in one of the most expensive cities in the world requires careful planning. For Monika Navarro and her husband, who had a child last year in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, they expected to pay for expensive child care until their son turned 3, at which point they believed the city’s free prekindergarten program, known as 3-K for All, would take over. This would have saved them about $13,000. However, after Mayor Eric Adams cut funding for the program, Navarro is now unsure if they can afford to stay in New York City.
The question now is whether access to the free prekindergarten program should be available to all families or concentrated in the neediest neighborhoods. This debate has broader implications for cities across the U.S. as federal funding decreases due to the pandemic and mayors face budget constraints. In New York City, even families with six-figure incomes are struggling to make ends meet, and Adams’s administration is under pressure to provide support for working families.
The 3-K program in New York City currently falls short of universal access. While preschool for 4-year-olds is guaranteed for all families, the 3-K program is facing challenges with unfilled seats, despite the high demand for child care across different income brackets. The city has been criticized for not reallocating seats to neighborhoods with the greatest need, while others argue that the lack of promotion by City Hall has contributed to many parents being unaware of the program.
The city has yet to secure a permanent funding source for 3-K, and the previous administration used pandemic-related federal funding to expand the program. However, Adams did not continue this strategy. Parents in New York City regard the year their child turns 3 as a milestone for applying to 3-K, but competition for slots is fierce in some areas, leading to desperate measures such as trying to time the birth of a second child or considering moving to neighborhoods with more availability.
Universal access to the program was meant to ensure ease and convenience for families in need, regardless of their income level. Since its inception, the prekindergarten program has shown promising results, with high-quality classrooms and benefits for the children enrolled. However, Adams’s administration has redirected funds from the program’s expansion, citing unfilled seats as a reason. Education Department officials claim they are prioritizing low-income families but insist they have not abandoned others.
Critics argue that the real problem lies in the lack of outreach efforts by the current administration, unlike the previous administration under de Blasio. The once robust outreach operation has diminished, leaving many parents unaware of the free preschool program. This has led to frustration among parents and childcare providers, who are left to navigate the application process on their own.
In conclusion, the cut in funding for the 3-K program in New York City has raised concerns about access to affordable child care for families. The debate over whether this entitlement should be available to all or concentrated in needy neighborhoods has broader implications for cities across the U.S. as federal funding diminishes. The lack of outreach efforts by the current administration has added to the challenges faced by parents and providers in accessing the program.