Council members and advocates blasted the Department of Education on Wednesday for delaying payments to city-contracted early childhood programs — which are collectively owed millions of dollars in reimbursements, The Post revealed last month.
The City Council held an oversight hearing on early childhood programs, highlighting how hundreds of workers have had to go without paychecks for months, causing some contracted providers of affordable care to shutter their neighborhood programs.
“Where is the breakdown?” asked Rita Joseph, chair of the council’s education committee. “What is the DOE doing, if anything, to assist families who have lost early childhood programing?”
A recent audit at the request of the Day Care Council of New York found the financial burdens totaled $464 million last school year, with close to 20 organizations reporting a deficit of $5 million or more — thanks to faulty invoice systems at the DOE.
“Centers are closing,” said Jahmila Edwards of the District Council 37 union, which represents child care workers. “Children are being displaced. Parents are being left stranded and workers are being let go and unpaid.”
Speaking at a rally before the council oversight hearing, Edwards added, “We simply cannot afford to let these places go out of business because of paperwork issues.”
One of the impacted providers, Sheltering Arms, with six locations across three boroughs, recently announced it will close its doors this winter because of late payments and enrollment issues — leaving nearly 400 of the city’s youngest learners in limbo.
“This is where our priority should be,” said Veronica Leyva, a mom of a 3-year-old, who will be ousted from her Sheltering Arms site in the South Bronx at the end of this year.
“We are communities with minimal resources, and if you take away this major resource, where will we land? Where will we end up?” Leyva said through a translator.
More than a dozen council members, joined by hundreds of child care workers, advocates and union leaders, attended the rally to demand the DOE make good on its contracts.
The situation has “created untold hardships for workers,” Joseph said on the steps of City Hall — “including falling behind on rent, not being able to afford prescription medication, and being forced to leave the careers they love.”
Council member Julie Menin, who recently sponsored a package of child care legislation, said figures show just 61% of providers have been paid on time.
“That is an F. It’s a failing grade,” said Menin.
Majority whip Selvena Brooks-Powers added that her own 3-year-old’s daycare has yet to be paid this year.
Kara Ahmed, the deputy chancellor of early childhood education, testified that the DOE is eliminating “burdensome” monthly reimbursement processes — like decoupling enrollment and attendance reporting requirements from invoices — and improved invoice times.
“Without question, the Department of Education has built inadequate support systems, which we are striving to urgently address by greatly improving communication and customer service,” Ahmed said.
“We have already begun to fix it. But it will take some time to truly repair, and to truly rebuild,” she added.
The early childhood division could not say how much in monthly payments are still owed to the providers. Not all invoices are guaranteed to result in payment if centers enroll fewer kids, officials explained, adding that reimbursements are also dependent on actual expenses.
Officials added that the agency so far has reimbursed more than $930 million to providers for last school year and paid out roughly 62% of the invoices they were expecting under annual contracts. The DOE has not yet started the process to review approximately 4,000 other anticipated invoices.
Several council members on Wednesday also blasted the Adams administration’s plan for its pre-kindergarten program for 3-year-olds.
Education officials reiterated at the hearing that the DOE is committed to universal “3-K” — but have not committed to a numerical goal, citing changes in demand and challenges funding the program, whose expansion was largely supported by expiring COVID aid.
Instead, the administration said its focus is offering 3-K seats in neighborhoods where families are asking for them.
Ahmed on Wednesday announced that 300 3-K seats — plus another 300 slots for pre-K — were moved to areas of “unmet demand” over the summer.