The Day Care Council of New York, which represents more than 200 publicly-funded day-care centers, has estimated it would cost $83 million to address the wage disparity between the early childhood educators who work in those centers and those employed by the Department of Education, according to a report set to be released this week.

Efforts to end the decades-long wage gap have ramped up, with District Council 1707, which represents about 8,000 early-childhood educators, calling off a strike that was set for May 2 after the city agreed to meet with the union.

Council: Remedy It Now

The City Council has taken up the issue and has recommended that the de Blasio administration allocate $89 million in the budget to address the disparity.

Teachers who work at community-based centers and have a master’s degree have a starting salary of $42,000, $17,000 less than staff working for the Department of Education, who are represented by the United Federation of Teachers. After eight years, the gap climbs to $36,000—and the disparity was often larger for non-unionized Teachers.

The Day Care Council analyzed the salaries and fringe benefits of unionized and non-unionized early childhood educators to determine that it would cost $83 million to bring them to parity in a year. In five years, the effort to close the gap for just unionized staff would cost $152 million, said the organization’s executive director Andrea Anthony at a May 8 discussion on the topic.

She spoke of when the Mayor’s universal pre-kindergarten program—in which more than 60 percent of the students it serves are enrolled in community-based centers—was unveiled without giving the early-childhood educators represented by DC 1707 their first raise in 10 years.

‘That Explains It’

“They forgot all about those in unionized childcare programs—we were making $40,000 with a master’s at the time. So that’s how we got here,” she said.

In 2016, the de Blasio administration, DC 1707 and the Day Care Council agreed to a four-year pact that would help the day care Teachers reach parity with public school pre-K Teachers by 2020. But advocates want child-care staff, including those not in the union, to reach that goal sooner.

Rosemarie Sinclair, first vice president at the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents the Directors who supervise staff at the child-care centers, said that they were “very concerned because some of the quality Teachers in the program are leaving.”

“It’s not because they don’t love their children, it’s because they are not getting the pay that they need to support their own children or to even live a good-quality life,” she said. “New York City is known for the quality of its early childhood programs and that is at risk.”

A Transfer to DOE

One major factor that contributed to the increased advocacy over the recent months was the DOE’s “Birth-to-Five Request for Proposals,” which will shift management of community-based early-childhood providers from the Administration for Children’s Services to the DOE by 2020.

Michelle Paige, the associate executive director of early childhood programs at the University Settlement, said that the advocates have been more aggressively pushing the issue because the proposal did not include funding to address the wage gap.

“I think the hope was that when early-childhood [education] transitioned from ACS to the DOE that the salary considerations would be part of the RFPs, and they were not, so it was just a missed opportunity,” she said.

The early-childhood center operators were concerned not only about the speed of the rollout but its design: many day-care programs offered half-day options, or had grade levels and cultural accommodations that differed significantly from the DOE and were not being factored into the RFP.

‘Not the Only Flaw’

“We want to be clear, the unequal pay is a fundamental flaw to the system but it is not the only one, and so fixing it does not fix the system,” said Louisa Chafee, the senior vice-president for external relations and public policy at the United Jewish Appeal Federation of New York.

As part of a separate study, policy organization United Neighborhood Houses—which University Settlement was part of—researched what level of funding was needed to sustain a quality early-childhood-education program and found that on average, its centers were spending about $16,000 per child annually. But the cost to run a program in the city was $24,000, meaning that the average center received just two-thirds of the needed funding, according to Ms. Paige.

She spoke of how being under-budgeted directly affected leadership and teaching staff in the programs.

“If you are starting your funding with not being able to support those two top indicators of high-quality education, you are already starting those children below where they need to be,” she said. “It’s an unethical, in my opinion, approach to the foundation in which learning takes place.”

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