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Pre-K for All: 22,000 Families Apply for Pre-K on First Day

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
UNH Executive Director was quoted in a press release issued by the Mayor's office about the second phase in the expansion of Pre-K for All. 

“New York City’s settlement houses and community centers are proud to be part of the necessary work of ensuring that every child in New York City has access to high-quality, safe and affordable early childhood education.”  said Nancy Wackstein, Executive Director of United Neighborhood Houses. “Expanding the pre-K system to 70,000 slots in just two years is a remarkable and historic achievement. We look forward to continuing to work with the de Blasio administration and communities in every neighborhood to provide care and education to the youngest New Yorkers.” 

Read the full press release here. 

Campaign for Children Seeks Funding for Early Childhood and After School Fixes

Tuesday, March 17, 2015



In response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Preliminary Budget for FY2015-16, The Campaign for Children is seeking several budget adjustments to address what they argue are critical issues in both the early childhood and after school services networks in New York City. 
 
“Early Learn providers’ largest concern is with the compensation of their staff. Early Childhood educators are among the lowest paid professionals of any field and the situation for Early Learn teachers and staff is particularly stark,” said UNH’s Gregory Brender.  “Many Early Learn staff cannot afford health insurance due to the employee contribution. Moreover, their salaries are considerably lower than similarly credentialed teachers in the public school systems. These disparities will only grow if the wages of Early Learn teachers continue to stagnate.”

Read the full article here.  

Governor's FY2016 Budget: Progress, but still work to be done

Thursday, January 22, 2015
United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) applauds Governor Cuomo for several noteworthy aspects of his FY 2015-16 budget proposal, but remains deeply concerned with the overall lack of investment in human services, and policy proposals that fall short.

We welcome and largely support the Governor’s 10-point Anti-Poverty Opportunity Agenda.  In it, Governor Cuomo proposes dedicating significant resources to address the housing affordability and homelessness crises New Yorkers have been grappling with for years. However, on two other key fronts—addressing the State’s inadequate minimum wage and lack of capital resources for nonprofit human service organizations, the proposed budget does not go far enough. 
 
While pleased that the 10-point plan includes the nonprofit human services infrastructure fund UNH championed with our partners, the $50 million investment represents just a fraction of the $500 million we proposed as necessary to truly begin to address critical sector needs. In addition, while the Governor’s proposal of a statewide minimum wage of $10.50/hr. and $11.50/hr. in NYC appropriately recognizes regional cost of living differences, it falls short of the $13.13 city wage proposal that more closely tracks to the true cost of living in NYC, and was endorsed by the Governor last year. 

There are some bright spots in the Governor’s budget for our communities.  We welcome the $25 million proposal to pilot Pre-Kindergarten for three-year olds living in high need districts, which serves as an important step toward ensuring every child in the State has access to high quality early childhood education. The Governor is also right to continue advancing the concept of raising the age of criminal responsibility to the age of 18 in New York, and we support the $25 million proposed investment in diversion and probation services toward that end. UNH also welcomes the Governor’s support of the NY DREAM Act as an effective means for cultivating and harnessing the potential of all youth seeking a college education.  The passage of the NY DREAM Act should not be linked to the passage of unrelated education reforms.

In terms of the key funding sources nonprofits rely on to deliver services to their communities, the FY 2015-16 budget truly presents a mixed bag. As a result of the Governor’s imposed 2% cap on budget growth, the budget does not recognize the increased costs of providing human services over time— or the demand for them. Cuts to the Adult Literacy Education (ALE) program, Advantage Afterschool and the Youth Development Program (YDP) are harmful to NYC’s communities.  Once again, comprehensive cost of living adjustments to human service contracts were left out at a time when so many workers in our agencies are struggling to make ends meet. 

Further, at a time in which the older adult population in New York continues to rapidly expand and a pre-existing backlog for services exists, the level funding of the Community Services for the Elderly (CSE) program is tantamount to a cut that jeopardizes the State’s ability to help older adults age at home. In addition, while we welcome the Governor’s modest $2.5m enhancement to the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), it does not fully reflect the costs associated with the change in the State minimum wage, nor does it allow growth in this highly successful and oversubscribed employment program. 

UNH remains committed to working with the Governor and legislature to ensure the final FY 2015-16 budget fully realizes it potential to support New Yorkers in need of human service programs and policies that promote their wellbeing and advancement.

Pre-K Providers Pressure de Blasio Over Salary Disparities

Thursday, January 15, 2015


By Eliza Shapiro

As City Hall gears up for the second year of its massive pre-kindergarten program, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration will have to reckon with mounting pressure from community-based organizations about salary and benefit disparities that have long plagued the city’s early education programs.

C.B.O. providers, who operate pre-kindergarten classes in facilities that are not public schools, stayed relatively quiet during the lead-up to the pre-K rollout last fall, careful not to hedge their enthusiasm about the expansion of early childhood education. But they are now voicing significant concern about pay discrepancies, which can stretch to tens of thousands of dollars, between community center teachers and staff and their Department of Education counterparts.
Some of the administration's most reliable pre-K allies, rather than the charter school advocates and reform leaders who are regularly critical of the mayor's policies, are leading the push to address salary disparities. 

“We have the tale of two school systems right here in the early childhood field,” said Nancy Wackstein, executive director of United Neighborhood Houses, which oversees 38 community organizations, many of which offer pre-K.
Salary and benefit disparities, she said, will be “a profound challenge going forward.”
D.O.E. pre-K teachers can make up to $91,000 with a masters’ degree and 20 years of experience. C.B.O. teachers with identical credentials can earn up to $50,000. D.O.E. teachers are represented by the United Federation of Teachers, and are eligible for new raises and benefits in the new U.F.T. contract.

After a relatively smooth launch in September,  which was hardly guaranteed, the administration has repeatedly stressed that the pre-K roll-out would be a two-year climb, with any initial hiccups addressed in year two.

The administration filled over 53,000 spots this year, and is planning to extend the program to 70,000 four-year-olds this fall, with C.B.O.s making up more than 60 percent of the city's 1,700 pre-K offerings. 

If C.B.O. providers and advocates get their way, the administration will hone in on salary disparities, which they consider to be perhaps the most substantial issue going forward.
C.B.O. teachers typically belong to either District Council 1707’s Local 205, which represents daycare employees, or the union’s Local 95, which represents Head Start employees. Some C.B.Os have both Local 205 and Local 95 employees.

Benefit disparities are another major issue, providers and advocates say. C.B.O. teachers typically work longer days, as centers are open into the evening hours to accommodate working parents, and teach year-round. Their public school peers usually get summers off, teach until mid-afternoon, and have better health insurance plans provided by the U.F.T.

The issue of pay disparity has come up repeatedly in recent months in an early childhood education task force run out of City Hall, according to several members of the task force. The group has been meeting regularly to oversee the pre-K rollout, and is expected to report its findings to de Blasio during the last week of January. The task force is run by deputy mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli and Administration for Children’s Services commissioner Gladys Carrion to develop recommendations for the city’s early childhood education.

The administration moved to address the problem, which long predates de Blasio, last April, pledging $16.9 million of the $300 million dedicated pre-K funds to increase starting salaries for certified teachers in C.B.O.s.

Starting salaries for certified teachers at C.B.O.s with bachelors degrees were raised from about $35,000 to $44,000, and starting pay for certified teachers with masters degrees to $50,000. That's still slightly below the starting salary rate, $46,000, for D.O.E. teachers.
Advocates say the increases were helpful for child care employees, but haven’t been sufficient to accommodate the vast expansion of teaching staff.

David Nocenti, executive director of the Union Settlement Association in Harlem, which offers pre-K, pointed out that the increases didn’t account for more experienced teachers, or the many uncertified teaching assistants and staff members. And many Head Start teachers with bachelors degrees were already making the same  amount under their union contract.

“This is a single, high-quality system where four-year-olds are learning new multi-syllable vocabulary words, exploring through interactive science experiments and gaining critical interpersonal skills while making friends and engaging in meaningful play,” Devora Kaye, a D.O.E. spokeswoman, said in a statement. “We have made investments in training, given organizations new recruitment tools, and continue to provide ongoing resources to attract and retain the best teachers. Across every classroom we had a qualified lead instructor, and this will continue as we expand to new neighborhoods across the city. This is part of our profound commitment to giving every child a great early education, of which pre-K is the beginning."

Still, providers say they’ve lost students and some of their best teachers to D.O.E. schools due to the salary issues over the last year, as the scale of the pre-K roll-out has in some cases aggravated existing retention issues.

“What has typically happened in many cases is now exacerbated,” said Maria Collier, director of the Cypress Hills Child Care Corporation, a C.B.O. in Brooklyn. Pointing out that many C.B.O.s, like her’s, provide pre-K in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Collier said the salary disparities can lead to loss of teachers, putting low-income students at a greater disadvantage.

“Teachers will gain experience or study while they are at a C.B.O., and as soon as they get their credentials they will go to the D.O.E.,” Collier said. "It’s totally understandable because many of them graduate owing lots of money, but it puts the C.B.O. at an extreme disadvantage because you cannot compete with the D.O.E," she said. 

Collier said she was lucky to lose only a few teachers to the D.O.E., this summer, but she said her center was “scrambling” just before the first day of school to hit enrollment targets, as parents tried to game the system by applying to as many programs as possible, creating long and unreliable waitlists.
Another pre-K provider who asked not to be identified said her program lost several of its best teachers to the D.O.E., along with students whose parents had been promised that enrolling at a district pre-K spot would help guarantee Kindergarten admission at the same school.

“Some of our agencies really have seen an exodus of staff,” said Gregory Bender, a policy analyst at United Neighborhood Houses.

Attrition has been a long-standing issue for C.B.Os, Collier and other providers said, but more students, teachers and programs have made the scope of the issue clearer.

“What the [rollout] revealed in stark terms was that the city has to have a better integrated early childhood system,” Bender said.

Different insurance plans for C.B.O. and D.O.E. staff have been another major disincentive for community-based teachers and staff, providers say.

Bender said as many as 60 percent of staff at some of the pre-K programs United Neighborhood Houses oversees have opted out of their health insurance plans due to the cost. Collier said several members of her staff, particularly custodial and kitchen staff, have also had to opt out of insurance plans.

The rollout has also shed light on another subtle layer of disparity that providers say is causing tension in their centers: salary differences between C.B.O. teachers providing pre-K to four-year-olds, and teachers who work with children 3 years old and under.

While C.B.O. teachers with master’s degrees and 20 years of experience who provide pre-K instruction can earn up to $50,000, child care providers who work with younger children earn less, only up to $39,500 at Cypress Hills, Collier said.

“When there is salary disparity within your own center, it magnifies dissatisfaction,” Collier said.
And while all parents of children in C.B.Os pay a basic fee for services, typically around $60 or $70, parents of younger children pay a larger amount.

The providers and advocates, most of whom have been longtime supporters of de Blasio and his early childhood goals, say they are grateful to have a mayor who recognizes the importance of pre-K, and all praised the initial rollout of the program.

The first year of the rollout was about “prying the door open,” said Nancy Kolben, the executive director of the Center for Children's Initiatives and a member of de Blasio's pre-K implementation working group. But, she added, “we have these two systems that should be aligned but aren’t there yet.” 

Voice Your Support - Here's How!

Friday, January 09, 2015
As advocacy season heats up, we wanted to share this fun and inspiring video created by UNH member University Settlement. Their adult literacy students will show you how to make a simple call to your City Council Member to voice your support for various issues or campaigns you may see UNH working on. Watch below!



Credit: Michael Hunter

The DYCD “Haves” vs the “Have-Nots”

Friday, December 05, 2014


One of the most significant problems which providers faced as part of this year’s Summer Initiative was the wide disparity in funding levels between the 70 DYCD Cornerstone programs, which received approximately $90,000 to cover the costs of expanded hours and programming, and the 37 NYCHA-operated and nonprofit-sponsored NYCHA centers, which received only one third of that amount, little more than $30,000.

“The inequity in funding between DYCD Cornerstone and non-DYCD sites was a real problem,” says UNH’s Gregory Brender.  “The non-DYCD-funded providers were not able to offer the same quality services with the lower funding levels.  Unless more money is put into to the budget, we will face the same problem next year.”

Read the full article here.

Mayor’s Summer Surge in Youth Services Keeps City Peaceful

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Heading into the summer of 2014, New York City’s tabloids were predicting a law and order meltdown. Mayor Bill de Blasio had halted the Bloomberg administration’s policy of rampant and seemingly random “Stop and Frisk” searches of youth in minority neighborhoods.  And, the Daily News and New York Post claimed the result was a surge in shootings across the City.  By early June, the number of shootings was up 13% compared to a year earlier– although experts argued whether stopping “Stop and Frisk” had anything to do with the surge and actual murders were hitting a 50-year low. Nevertheless, with the end of the school year coming, the possibility of a long, hot summer was becoming a significant source of public concern… even for the new administration itself.

On July 8th, the Mayor responded by announcing a major $210 million initiative “to make the City’s neighborhoods safer and reduce violent crime”, particularly in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments.  While most of the funding went to repairs, maintenance and security enhancements at NYCHA buildings – as well as redeployment of 200 police officers -- the new initiative also included a $15.6 million allocation of new funding to expand community center activities and other key programs in NYCHA projects this summer.

Read the full article here. 


Advocates Argue Advantage Awards Reveal Need for More Funding

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Advocates used Governor Cuomo's announcement last week of $10.9 million in grants for Advantage After School Programs as an opportunity to point out that funding for these and other youth programs has actually declined in recent years and that the awards themselves demonstrate the need for additional investments in these types of programming.

The New York State Afterschool Network (NYSAN) noted that the FY2014-15 state budget included $17.7 million for Advantage. This was down 37% from the $28 million which had been allocated to the program annually prior to the ecomic crisis and subsequent recession.  The loss in funding has cost almost 8,000 students the opportunity to participate in programs. Overall, funding for New York’s three major afterschool funding streams remains 40% below pre-recession levels.

Only 68 of 281 applicants for the latest round of Advantage After School funding actually received grants—fewer than a quarter of the applicants. Several programs that had been receiving funds were cut, which will leave them struggling to still serve students.

"There are a lot of programs that used to be there for students that aren't operating anymore," agrees Gregory Brender, Policy Analyst with United Neighborhood Houses.

Governor Cuomo proposed $160 million in new afterschool funding in the FY2014-15 executive budget, which would have created opportunities for more than 100,000 students. That funding was not included in the final budget.  NYSAN says this was a huge missed opportunity to provide new options for some of the 1.1 million students in need of a safe, educational place to go after the school day ends—and for their families, too many of whom face painful choices when they cannot afford safe afterschool options.

Read the full article here. 

The Summer Surge: Mayor Sends in Services to Keep City Safe

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

 
Last week, the de Blasio administration announced a $210.5 million comprehensive, citywide plan to make the City’s neighborhoods safer and reduce violent crime in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments.  While the bulk of the overall investment consists of funding for repairs, maintenance and physical improvements to enhance security at NYCHA buildings – as well as redeployment of 200 Police Officers -- the new initiative also includes a $15.6 million allocation of new funding to expand community center activities and other key programs in NYCHA projects this summer.

“Mayor de Blasio’s plan to increase public safety in NYCHA developments presents a meaningful and progressive response to one of the City's most challenging problems,” said Nancy Wackstein, Executive Director of United Neighborhood Houses (UNH). “This plan depends heavily on community-based organizations including the settlement houses who are members of United Neighborhood Houses.  The Mayor’s plan to expand nighttime and weekend youth programs and Summer Youth Employment slots will make a difference for thousands of young people.”

“The Campaign for Summer Jobs applauds Mayor de Blasio’s announcement of 850 new SYEP slots this summer for young people in public housing,” said Gigi Li of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition and Gregory Brender of UNH, co-chairs of Campaign for Summer Jobs.  “These jobs will give valuable work experience and a paycheck to young people throughout the City…  We are thrilled that more young people will have this opportunity.”

Read the full article to see the response of UNH and partner organizations. 

UNH's Full Statement on the NYC FY 2015 Budget Agreement

Thursday, June 26, 2014

UNH Statement on the NYC FY 2015 Budget Agreement

On Thursday night, Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council reached an agreement for the FY 2015 budget beginning July 1st.  The budget agreement represents the achievement of several long-term goals of United Neighborhood Houses and shows directions we will move in order to better serve New York City’s neighborhoods.

Early Childhood Education and After-School

UNH member agencies are among the highest quality providers of early childhood education and after-school in New York City and have for the last several years been working through Campaign for Children to ensure that every child in New York City has access to high quality early childhood education and after-school programs.  The FY 2015 budget represents a historic expansion of these services.

In FY 2015, New York City will implement Mayor de Blasio’s visionary plan to offer an after-school slot to every middle school student who wants one.  This will entail a 76% increase in the number of middle school after-school slots to 79,600.  Recently, New York City has selected 271 middle schools that will have new after-school programs, including 43 programs that will be operated by UNH member agencies.

Over the next two years, New York City will expand its Universal Pre-Kindergarten (UPK) program for 4-year-olds so that Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs can live up to its name and be truly universal.  UNH members will also play a huge role in this expansion offering both UPK programs and a broad range of comprehensive early childhood services.

However, this budget misses the crucial opportunity to stabilize New York City’s early childhood system by investing in equitable salaries for early childhood educators.  With the implementation of UPK for 4-year-olds, teachers of 4-year-olds will receive higher salaries than similarly qualified teachers teaching children 0-3.  This may lead to teachers opting out of serving younger children and destabilize the early childhood system.  UNH urges the City to fund community-based organizations to provide equitable salaries to all early childhood educators before the implementation of UPK in September.

Summer Jobs for Teenagers

For the past 15 years, UNH has co-led the Campaign for Summer Jobs with Neighborhood Family Services Coalition.  Campaign for Summer Jobs has fought successfully at both the City and State levels to maintain subsidized summer jobs for New York’s teenagers through the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP).  However, due to lack of funding, most teenagers who apply for a summer job do not get one.  Young people must literally win a lottery to get this crucial work experience.   In most years, nearly 100,000 young people apply for and are turned away from a summer job.

Campaign for Summer Jobs has begun a multi-year campaign to reduce youth unemployment through investment in SYEP.  Campaign for Summer Jobs is calling for 100,000 summer jobs in five years.

Campaign for Summer Jobs is off to a strong start in its new campaign with the FY 2015 budget.  Thanks to a new investment of $15.2 million from the City Council, this summer, the number of summer jobs will increase by 10,700, dramatically expanding the number of young people who participate.

School Lunches

UNH and many of its member agencies are engaged in the Lunch 4 Learning a campaign to offer free, universal school lunch in New York City public schools.  Lunch 4 Learning recognizes that when children and youth have a nutritious meal they are better equipped to concentrate and succeed in school.  The campaign also recognizes that there is often a regrettable social stigma attached to receiving a free school lunch because of its association with poverty.  In other cities across the country, and in New York State, the adoption of free, universal school lunch has increased participation in the school lunch program significantly. By offering free, universal school lunch, New York City can ensure that every student, regardless of family income, can have a nutritious lunch without stigma.

The FY 2015 budget starts off Lunch 4 Learning by offering free, universal school lunch in middle schools.  We believe that the implementation of this program will not only benefit 170,000 middle school students and their families, but will be an effective demonstration of the value of free, universal school lunch so that New York City can move toward expanding it to all students. 

Services for Older Adults

A majority of UNH’s members offer programs for older adults, spanning a range of services and activities that enable them to age in place and continue to thrive in their communities. Starting with the baselining of many of these services at last year’s levels, and extending to the additional investments in meals and case management that were added in the Executive Budget, we are encouraged by the recognition of the growing older adult population, and the acknowledgement of the need for new investment in this area following a decade of cuts. We will continue to work toward securing the funds community-based organizations need to provide the whole spectrum of services to older adults.

Adult Literacy

UNH has been a longtime leader in the New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy (NYCCAL) as both a member of the steering committee and advocacy committee. NYCCAL has played a key role in shaping New York State’s response to the new high school equivalency (HSE) examination, and, in the City, has led the charge to secure additional resources to meet the challenges associated with the introduction of the Common Core.

In an attempt to reverse the trend of declining investment in community-based literacy services over the past decade, NYCCAL recruited new Council allies and fought to expand the City Council’s adult literacy initiative. The initiative funds critical Adult Basic Education (ABE), English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and High School Equivalency (HSE) preparation classes. As a result of these efforts, the initiative was expanded for the first time since its inception, and hundreds of additional immigrants and adult learners will be able to improve their English literacy and/or study to earn their HSE diploma