Members of the New York City Council grilled education department officials Wednesday about the decision to scale back expansion plans for the city’s free preschool program for 3-year-olds, called 3-K.
The Adams administration announced this week that it would keep funding for the free 3-K program steady over the next three years and maintain the current number of seats, not continue to increase them. Instead of 61,000 total seats next fall, officials said, there will be 55,000 — 6,000 fewer than the de Blasio administration had planned.
But Adams administration officials said 15,000 of those 3-K seats are currently vacant, and 55,000 seats total next year should be more than enough to meet demand from families. The revision is expected to save the city half a billion dollars.
The de Blasio administration had planned to use federal stimulus dollars to support the expansion of 3-K, but those dollars will run out over the next couple of years.
Several councilmembers said expanding 3K remains worthwhile, noting that families continue to complain that there are not enough seats in their neighborhoods. “I have families in my district that are unable to access 3-K seats in Greenpoint,“ said Councilmember Lincoln Restler, who also represents Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill. He said the education department was failing to do sufficient outreach to families.
The Adams administration counters that poor planning from the de Blasio administration led to a glut of empty seats. Schools Chancellor David Banks told reporters at a press conference this month that his predecessors created a “dysfunctional” dynamic in which preschool providers found themselves competing for a finite number of students. He has promised to “right-size” the preschool programs in the next few years to better match the number and the placement of seats with demand.
“There’s work to do in continuing to make sure we have the right seats in the right location,” James Morgano, who works on preschool expansion at the education department, told councilmembers on Wednesday.
The Adams administration has faced a torrent of criticism in recent months for its handling of early education programs, including major delays in reimbursements to preschool and childcare providers. Some providers said they had to reach into their own savings or cut staff to cover costs as a result. Officials promised this month to speed reimbursements to address the backlog.