In Part #1 of our post, we discussed how New York City's Universal PreK program is both over-budget and under-subscribed, despite the Mayor insisting there is demand for all the seats he's funded. Read it, here.
In Part #2, we explore what that means for middle-class families, as it is unfathomable that the next mayor will be as obsessed with Universal Pre-K as the current one is. He/She will have their own priorities. UPK will inevitably begin to shrink, due to both finances and attendance, until it is, most likely, back to Head Start and other, similar ventures that serve the poor, or at least include some sort of income requirements.
The rich will be fine. They’ll still have the preschools at Episcopal, Brick Church, Park Avenue Christian, and Temple Emanu-El, just to keep things ecumenical. Those schools will continue feeding their children into the city’s top private elementary schools without so much as a hiccough.
But what of the middle-class? You would think they’d just go back to the same pre-schools they’ve always attended.
Except for one thing: Thanks to UPK, those schools are in danger of disappearing.
Take the prototypical case of River Park Nursery School. Founded over 40 years ago on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as a first-come/first-served, parent cooperative, the school is still in its original location and has even retained several of its founding teachers. It has now provided two generations of families with a progressive, reasonably-priced education. Compare its morning program ($12,697 for five days a week) to Brick Church’s ($21,700). River Park also offers a fewer number of days per week for a lower cost as well as financial aid, when it can. (To be fair, Brick Church and others of its ilk have limited scholarships, as well.)
But UPK took away precisely the sort of students River Park used to attract, middle-class families who weren’t as concerned with being brokered into The Dalton School, Brearley or Collegiate, but who appreciated the child-centered curriculum that got their offspring ready to take tests for Hunter College Elementary, and other public Gifted & Talented programs.
Unable to fill their class, River Park, after 40 years of independence and being made to jump through hoops to prove that their venerable institution could match the quality of those that had just been created over the summer, signed up for UPK. Unfortunately, money provided by the city is a great deal less than what they need to operate. Not to mention that teachers are constantly being pulled out of school to attend meetings and fill out endless paperwork. In addition, the parent cooperative aspect of the school was weakened. Previously, a certain number of volunteer hours were mandatory. Parents supervised lunch time, fixed broken toys, picked up snacks, helped with admissions and with book-keeping. It’s what helped keep tuition reasonable for all and was part of the River Park contract. Now, UPK parents cannot be compelled to volunteer. Plus, following a Department of Education calendar means that traditional fund-raisers like an annual, pre-Christmas Bazaar that the entire neighborhood looked forward to for holiday shopping had to be cancelled.
River Park is struggling, and there is no telling how long this once-reliable, middle-class family resource will be able to keep going. In a similar boat are private preschools that opened specifically in response to the mayor’s promise about how many UPK students he’d be sending their way. Many of those new preschools aren’t meeting their target goals, either, and may not be able to remain afloat much longer.
So what happens to NYC’s middle-class once UPK inevitably contracts and can no longer accommodate all who want it? Currently, parents in multiple neighborhoods, most notably the Upper East Side of Manhattan, are furious that their nearest option might be as many as 40 blocks away. (The few local public schools that have UPK are small and offer priority to siblings of students already enrolled in the elementary school, meaning those without a previous connection have little chance of getting in. On the other hand, it is a good dry run for NYC Kindergarten admissions, where the same rules are in force and no one is guaranteed a seat at their local school anymore.)
It’s possible, however, that, in the near future, even that distant prospect will start to seem like the good, old days, as UPK drives reasonably-priced nursery schools out of business, before collapsing in on itself and leaving a good segment of the population high and dry.
By that time, of course, Bill de Blasio will likely be out of office, and it won’t be his problem anymore. Not that he is overly concerned with it now.
To learn more about the difference a good preschool teacher makes in a child’s future education, listen to this podcast.
For information on FREE Getting Into NYC Kindergarten workshops, where all parents learn all their school choices – and the secrets to getting them – click here.