When Mayor Bill de Blasio launched his free universal pre-Kindergarten program in 2014, the Upper East Side was only allotted 100 seats. It was a blow to parents in the neighborhood, where need greatly outsized availability. In the intervening years, the number of pre-K slots steadily grew to universal access, with about 70,000 four-year-olds currently enrolled across New York City.
This week the de Blasio administration announced the city is using federal stimulus funds to expand its free universal 3K program to every school district in the city – amounting to an additional 16,500 seats and 40,000 seats total – by this fall, and UES City Council Member Ben Kallos said he is already doing everything he can to ensure his district gets its fair share of those spots this time around.
“We’ve already gotten all hands on deck in my office to reach out to every provider that currently offers pre-K and every school that currently offers pre-K to find out how many additional seats they can accommodate,” Kallos, who is term-limited and running for Manhattan Borough President, told Our Town. Seats in the 3K program come from city-funded private daycare providers, DOE preschools, Head Start classes and home-based childcare programs.
Kallos said he’s contacting co-op boards looking for empty storefronts and keeping tabs on empty Duane Reeds for the city to potentially buy and convert to facilities for the 3K program.
“I’m going to spend the next six months, hopefully, working with parents, providers, and the real estate community to scale up as many seats as quickly as possible,” said Kallos. “I want as many of those seats to come to the Upper East Side as possible.”
“Jumped for Joy”
The Council member’s exuberance about the expansion was unmistakable during the mayor’s press conference Wednesday, with reporters questioning on Twitter whether Kallos had one too many cups of coffee that morning.
“When the mayor said he was bringing universal 3K city-wide, I literally jumped for joy,” Kallos said during the press conference. He later set the record straight that he doesn’t drink coffee or caffeinated beverages of any kind – it was pure enthusiasm.
“He has been slightly obsessed with expanding pre-K and 3K in his district,” the mayor noted, saying it’s been a point of discussion between the two electeds dozens of times over the years. “It’s heartening to me when the thing that brings out the most passion is early
His passion and persistence on universal 3K – and to keep pestering the administration to expand the program at nearly every city budget hearing since 2015 – comes from his constituents, he said.
“The worst part of my job is when constituents tell me that they love me, they love the neighborhood, but they have to move out,” he said. “And more often than not, one factor is always housing, but the second factor, the one that breaks the camel’s back, is that they can’t afford childcare.”
Making it More Manageable
Child care on the UES starts at $30,000, according to Kallos. But even if parents can afford it, spots are hard to come by and it can take more than a year to make it off a waiting list. He said this puts many parents in an impossible situation: either live paycheck to paycheck to pay for the care or leave a job to stay home with their child. It can leave parents who stay home with a 5-year resume gap that can be challenging to overcome.
But with free universal 3K and pre-K, Kallos said parents won’t have to sacrifice so much.
“[Universal 3K] changes somebody’s [resume] gap from five years to three years, and when you count in paternity leave and maternity leave, it starts to get closer to two years – and all of a sudden it starts to feel a little bit manageable that you can raise a family,” said Kallos.
In the coming months, Kallos said he wants to work with a coalition of parents to put pressure on providers to make more seats available. He also encourages any parent with a three-year-old to apply to program so the city can see the need for 3K expansion on the Upper East Side.
Applications for the 3K and pre-K programs are open now and due on May 28th.
Kallos, who is a father to a three-year-old daughter, said he’s applying to the program right away.
“I’m going to spend the next six months, hopefully, working with parents, providers, and the real estate community to scale up as many seats as quickly as possible.” Council Member Ben Kallos