New York City nonprofits continue push to raise pay for early childhood educators

City Councilmembers criticized Josh Wallack, deputy chancellor of early childhood and enrollment at the DOE, for lacking data on teacher salaries at a June 27 hearing.
City Councilmembers criticized Josh Wallack, deputy chancellor of early childhood and enrollment at the DOE, for lacking data on teacher salaries at a June 27 hearing.
Zach Williams
City Councilmembers criticized Josh Wallack, deputy chancellor of early childhood and enrollment at the DOE, for lacking data on teacher salaries at a June 27 hearing.

New York City nonprofits continue push to raise pay for early childhood educators

Teachers make far more working for the city than nonprofits
June 28, 2018

Early childhood educators do similar types of work, whether they work for nonprofits or New York City schools. They help children learn how to read, write and play well with others. Yet, nonprofit staff at child care, Head Start, and pre-kindergarten programs get paid thousands of dollars less per year than their counterparts who are employed by the city Department of Education (DOE).

That disparity is set to remain for at least two more years if the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio gets its way, but nonprofit advocates have not given up on trying to push the administration in a different direction. A rally last week in front of City Hall highlighted their grievances surrounding the ongoing pay disparity and a contentious council hearing on June 27 exposed the ongoing chasm between advocates and the administration on the issue of how much to pay nonprofit staffers.

“What is stopping (the de Blasio Administration) from doing this right now? There’s nothing that i could think of other than just political will and courage just to do this right now." - New York City Councilman Mark Treyger

Representatives from the DOE and the Mayor’s Office say that the issue will only be addressed during contract negotiations that are still two years away from implementation.

“We greatly value our early education teachers and the important work they do which is why in 2016 we helped (nonprofit) staff negotiate their first salary increase in ten years,” Raul Contreras, deputy press secretary at the Mayor’s Office, said in an email. “In that same vein, we’ll continue to work with labor and management when the time comes to negotiate at the end of the contract.”

But nonprofit advocates and City Council members say that there is no legal, or fiscal barrier preventing the administration from moving faster on this issue. As the delays drag on, the pay disparity continues to serve as a financial incentive that pulls staffers out of nonprofits and into the DOE, nonprofit leaders said at the June 27 joint meeting of the City Council committees on general welfare and education.

And it looks like the problem will get worse before it gets better.

“The supply of qualified teachers is likely to shrink and this will lead to a further destabilized system and the possibility of more long-standing programs being forced to shut their doors,” Gregory Brender, co-director of policy and advocacy at United Neighborhood Houses, said in his testimony.

A certified teacher with a bachelor's degree earns $55,153 in their first year working for the DOE, according to the Citizens’ Committee for Children, whereas a nonprofit counterpart earns $41,265. That disparity continues to grow over a career. By the eighth year of employment, DOE teachers makes $74,207 per year while nonprofit staffers earn less than $3,000 more than when they started.

The city is preparing to implement major changes by early 2019. It will transfer the management of EarlyLearn – the system of publicly-funded early childhood education programs at community-based organizations that was implemented in 2012 – from the Administration for Children’s Services to the DOE, according to the City Council.

This comes at a time of declining enrollment at EarlyLearn NYC centers, including a 12 percent drop of three to four-year-olds since the 2014 pre-K expansion, adding further instability to nonprofits beyond the exodus of staff to higher-paying jobs at the DOE, according to a City Council briefing paper on the issue.

The City Council pushed to fund pay increases for EarlyLearn nonprofits in the city budget for the upcoming fiscal year – though a specific fundraising total was not included in the response – but the administration declined to fund it.

City Councilman Mark Treyger, chair of the education committee, said there is no reason for the DOE, ACS and Mayor’s Office to continue to drag their feet. While a specific cost for implementing pay increases for EarlyLearn teachers was not highlighted at the June 27 hearing, it would be a small price to pay in the context of the $89 billion budget approved by the city this month, according to Treyger.

The testimony of Josh Wallack, deputy chancellor of early childhood and enrollment at the DOE, also sparked concerns over whether the administration cares enough about this issue. While the pay parity issue was listed as one of the focuses of the hearing, Wallack seemed unprepared. He said he did not have data on hand about teacher salaries and did not know whether the department could legally engage in contract negotiations to raise teacher salaries ahead of its current management transfer plan.

While the hearing was intended to help inform the committees’ oversight roles over EarlyLearn, Treyger expressed frustration in an interview after the meeting over why the de Blasio administration is neglecting a major concern connected to one of its signature initiatives – providing universal access to Pre-K and 3-K programs.

“What is stopping (the de Blasio Administration) from doing this right now? There’s nothing that i could think of other than just political will and courage just to do this right now,” Treyger said. “This hearing today left me with some more questions with regards to their grasp of this transition and their understanding of the gravity of these matters. So I think there are some follow up question that might lead to future hearings, future rallies, future advocacy. This is not going away.”

Zach Williams
Zach Williams
is a staff reporter at New York Nonprofit Media and sister publication City & State.
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