I recently received an invitation to Valentine’s Day Tea at my son’s community-based pre-school. It was bittersweet, because ours might be the last class to celebrate together at our center.
The proposed restructuring of the RCSD’s preschool program will close high-quality community-based centers (CBOs) like ours in a new plan that hurts families hurts families and fails to demonstrate the promised savings. The proposal likewise does not indicate how the District will maintain its signature high-quality pre-K model while consolidating 500 Pre-K seats into large, centralized settings at two under-performing schools, No. 44 and No. 57.
CBOs already deliver a high return on the city’s current investment. Comprising over 50% of the district’s Pre-K seats, they are among its most successful and cost-efficient programs, spending less per pupil than the city schools while delivering a high degree of kindergarten readiness.
CBOs voluntarily provide more staff in their classrooms to balance teacher-to-student ratios, offering more personal attention than is possible in a centralized facility. As a parent and as an educator with over thirty years’ experience, I have witnessed the benefits of this firsthand.
In the absence of neighborhood preschools, many city families face longer commutes to the designated Pre-K centers. The new plan does not provide transportation to before- and after-care programs, making the daily logistics of childcare nearly impossible for working parents. The district may actually experience declining enrollment as program accessibility decreases.
Losing community-based preschools also impacts services for children aged 0-3. A January 2020 study by The Children’s Agenda reports there is already a severe shortage of affordable infant and toddler daycare. Centers that draw enrollment because they offer on-site Pre-K will struggle to stay open and provide affordable care—including to families who are eligible for need-based assistance.
The plan is bad for the community, too. Hundreds of early childhood professionals will lose their jobs, many of them people of color and city residents.
Clearly, RCSD is in crisis. With a budget gap of this magnitude, solutions require sacrifice. This proposal, however, does not provide solutions that justify the devastating effects on our community.
The Board of Education has rushed to schedule a vote on this ill-advised plan for February 27, allowing little opportunity for community feedback. If RCSD wants parents to commit to and believe in our city schools, they must do better.
Katherine Clark Walter is the parent of an RCSD preschooler and an associate professor of History at SUNY Brockport.
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