When Elizabeth Hartline’s op-ed on why she believed universal pre-k was doomed to fail (with or without a tax increase) was published on WNYC, Twitter immediately erupted on why the entire plan should be dropped. Bankstreet Head Start has a good reputation, and Ms. Hartline’s qualifications certainly give her a credible voice in this debate, but there are real issues with the premise and tone of her opinion.
She starts out by comparing the conditions between private-public and only public schools in New Jersey. Arguing that teachers at schools such as hers get worn out and have capped salaries, plus the high demands that come with any teaching job, it would be impossible to maintain these schools while providing high quality education for its students.
While she correctly points out that there are currently not enough schools to have universal pre-k, Bankstreet’s Head Start program only has room for 68 students, not nearly enough to ensure all the youth in the city receive a quality education. Also, more schools across the city are being built and many elected officials have been talking about the lack of seats currently available. I would not be surprised to see big announcements from Mayor de Blasio or Council Member’s on a plan to increase the amount of seats available for the city’s students.
When it comes to paying for the program, it is worth noting that despite New York already being one of the most expensive places to live in the country, many of the city’s wealthiest residents have publicly stated they are willing to have their taxes raised to fund universal pre-k.
Hartline’s argument though really falls apart when she writes: “staffing is a huge challenge at CBOs. Assistant teachers, who typically have less training, stay around; head teachers turn over.” Bankstreet is a Community Based Organization (CBO), so what she is really saying is that if parents decide to enroll their child in her school, there’s no guarantee that the good teachers will stay. She also implies that if universal pre-k becomes a reality, she will continue to lose the better teachers at her school. Not a good thing to put in the minds of perspective parents, or the general public who are favor of the program.
In her closing argument Hartline writes: “This will be childcare. Some CBOs may be able to do it brilliantly, most will not” and claims the students at most of these new schools will not receive a strong education. But even with many of the Common Core’s implementation being botched from the start, this is an entirely new program that will encompass the new standards from the beginning. In fact, the new standards that shows pre-k educators how to teach their subjects are already on the Department of Education’s website.
More importantly, this is not just about pre-k education, it is a lift for families who cannot afford a babysitter and need to make sure their children are in a safe place while they are at work. A report by the Working Poor Families Project found that “The share of female-headed working families that are low income increased from 54 percent in 2007 to 58 percent in 2012.” Whether the mother of the child is looking for a job or is working long hours, universal pre-k offers these parents a peace of mind knowing their child is in a safe, educational environment.
No matter how it is funded, universal pre-k is coming to New York. That will mean more options for parents, which translates into more competition for places like Bankstreet. No, not all the pre-k schools will be as good as others, but the same came be said for middle and high schools, and no one is saying they should be closed.
By instituting universal pre-k in New York, current and future residents will benefit from this program, and you can take that to the bank.