The following blog by Karen G. Cohen, Senior Program Director for Early Learn Sites, focuses on our fight at the front lines of an issue affecting some of the city's most critical people – our educators:
I've been with University Settlement for nearly four years. I've been an educator for nearly 20. In the various positions I've held, the schools I've had the privilege of being part of, one thing is always the same: the dedication that the staff bring with them each and every day.
The standards and expectations we set for educators are high – and they should be. Teachers play a critical role in shaping our children and young adults. We inspire children to embrace knowledge and learning; to develop and grow to be leaders. We do so much more than provide a safe haven for children during the day; early childhood educators, in particular, help set the foundation for success for a lifetime.
It's because of this strong belief that we as an organization have committed to providing high-quality education for young children, regardless of their economic background. Every child deserves to have the same foundation for a brighter future, even if they need more support to get there. This has been a cornerstone of our work for 130 years.
But that cornerstone is at risk of cracking and crumbling.
Our educators are facing a crisis. There are a few primary streams of funding for early childhood educators. The Department of Education (DOE) funds preschool teachers in public schools; community-based organizations, like University Settlement, receive their funding from the Administration for Children's Services (ACS). The requirements for these educators, regardless of funding, is the same. ACS teachers haven't received a salary increase in nearly a decade. DOE teachers, in contrast, make $15,000-$25,000 more per year from the start and have negotiated raises during the last decade. For a working parent, a young person out of school with loans to pay, or a person interested in advancing their education, the difference in salary is undeniably substantial.
As a result, many ACS teachers who stay within their organizations – committed to their communities and employers – are forced to rely on benefits such as SNAP/food stamps to take care of their families, or even take on a secondary part-time job. Still more are taking the drastic step of leaving ACS-funded, neighborhood-based centers for DOE positions in schools.
The latter has been a tremendous challenge to equal access to quality education. This school year alone, we lost 7 head teachers to DOE positions. When we lose committed, talented teachers, we worry about the children in our centers losing, too. And we are not alone.
Community-based organizations with early childhood programs provide a vital service to children and working families. According to the Citizens' Committee for Children, there are 70,000 children in New York City alone who qualify for ACS-subsidized education. Where will these children go to build their educational foundation when ACS-funded organizations are struggling to hire and retain staff?
Early childhood educators are a true resource that should be available to every family, regardless of background. They are vital to the growth and development of a stronger, more vibrant New York. We need a more expansive, reliable policy where all educators are fairly compensated for the tremendous work they do. We need to commit to high-quality programs for everyone, and a recognition of the value that our educators have.