Home News NYC Council members press school officials on 3-K budget shortfall

NYC Council members press school officials on 3-K budget shortfall

City Council members pressed Schools Chancellor David Banks on cuts to the city’s popular 3-K program at a Wednesday budget hearing, weeks after the schools head hinted at reversing big clawbacks that could deprive kids of seats.

Last month, Mayor Adams announced the city would pay $514 million to continue programs backed by expiring federal stimulus funds after the pandemic. The investment included $92 million for 3-K next school year — but it did not restore recent budget cuts to the program that Adams has blamed on the costs of sheltering migrants.

“I do want to come back to some of the statements you made when you were last before us,” said Councilman Lincoln Restler (D-Brooklyn), referencing a preliminary education budget hearing on March 18.

“You went on to say, ‘The parents in New York City are waiting to see if these cuts are going to be restored. I’m fighting to make that happen. And I believe that it is exactly what is going to happen in the coming weeks,’” he continued. “But of course, it didn’t happen. The mayor did not restore $170 million of cuts to early childhood education just that he made this year.”

Despite those cuts staying in the budget, education officials could not say how the reduction would impact the number of available seats.

“The last time you were here, you said we would restore it,” said Councilwoman Rita Joseph (D-Brooklyn), chair of the Education Committee. “What’s the plan for that?”

Councilwoman Rita Joseph (Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)
Councilwoman Rita Joseph (Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)

Since former Mayor Bill de Blasio planned to expand 3-K, the Adams administration has attributed subsequent cuts to a series of problems as the program was stood up with temporary COVID aid. While 23,000 early childhood seats are currently empty, families are being shut out of programs elsewhere in the city.

With 3-K offers set to be released Thursday, 16% of families were not matched with any program ranked on their applications, according to preliminary data shared at the hearing. About 78% of families will receive an offer to one of their top three choices.

“I can’t over emphasize enough the state — the challenged state — that we assumed when we came into office as relates to early childhood,” Banks said. “We have made very, very significant progress, given what we inherited when we got here.”

Education officials have moved thousands of program seats across the city and adapted them to meet the scheduling and age-specific needs of more families. The city also tapped consultants at Accenture to produce a report, due last month, that could suggest more improvements to the program. It’s yet to be released.

“For working families, access to early childhood education is a deciding factor of whether they can remain in New York City or must leave to raise their children elsewhere,” said Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Queens).

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)
Council Speaker Adrienne Adams (Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit)

Despite the city’s hefty down payment last month, another $200-million fiscal cliff remains after COVID aid expires this summer. Programs on the chopping block or at risk of being trimmed back include hundreds of school nurses hired during the pandemic, alternatives to disciplinary action and suspensions and services for preschool-aged children with disabilities.

“The Council has been steady on this that our biggest challenge is not the costs related to the migrant influx but to grappling with the expiration of temporary dollars that were used to prop up permanent programs,” said Councilman Justin Brannan (D-Brooklyn), chair of the Finance Committee.

Those budget woes were only worsened by less-than-expected school aid from the state, after lawmakers punted a funding formula overhaul until next year but tweaked how inflation is calculated. The result was a state aid increase that was nonetheless $126 million below what city education officials anticipated.

“It is very challenging as chancellor to have a list given to you of all these wonderful and amazing programs and to be told, which ones do you prioritize?” said Banks. “How do you prioritize arts over community schools? I mean, it’s like asking you which one is your favorite child? These are all wonderfully amazing programs. We don’t want to lose any of them.”

A final city budget is due by July 1.


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