Testimony

Testimony regarding the child care availability task force

Testimony of UFT Assistant Secretary LeRoy Barr before the New York State Senate Committee on Children and Families, the Assembly Committee on Children and Families and the Assembly Legislative Task Force on Women’s Issues

Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to speak before you today.

I particularly want to thank the chairs of each committee involved in today’s hearing, including Sen. Tony Avella of the Children and Families Committee, Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee of the Children and Families Committee and Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer of the Assembly Legislative Task Force on Women’s Issues.

My name is LeRoy Barr and I’m the Assistant Secretary of the UFT, which represents thousands of family child care providers in New York City. These educators make it possible for many of New York’s middle- and low-income families to go to work because they know their children are safe and well taken care of.

I am also grateful to Sen. Tony Avella and Assembly members Ellen Jaffee, Donna Lupardo and Shelley Mayer for introducing legislation to establish a child care availability task force (S.5929-A/A.7726-A), which the United Federation of Teachers supports. The provision of quality child care for working New Yorkers is one of the linchpins of an economically strong state. Quality child care and education, plus addressing a child’s developmental delays at an early age, can change the trajectory of a child’s life.

New York State is making significant investments in economic and business development to grow our economy, particularly in struggling upstate communities. Affordable, quality child care is a critical support for both workers and the multitude of businesses that employ them. ThisTes is why access to high-quality, subsidized child care allows families to focus on job responsibilities and performance. When child care is not an issue, workers can remain employed, develop new job skills, increase work hours, earn higher wages and advance their careers. Employers also benefit since worker turnover is costly for business.

New York’s ability to sustain continued economic growth requires a strong workforce. For a working family, child care subsidies can mean the difference between making ends meet and living in poverty. New York thrives when people are working. When unemployment goes up, we see a decrease in tax revenue and an increase in government assistance.

Our family child care providers are our children’s first teachers. Decades of research show children who attend quality early childhood programs are better prepared to enter school, do better in school compared to children who do not attend these types of programs and possess a firm foundation for more successful outcomes in school and life, including greater earning potential. The findings show that the cost of remedial education in elementary school is much higher than the cost of early childhood education. Studies have also shown that early childhood education has a direct impact in keeping our young people out of jail later in life.

And yet, our society has not only been slow to put into place quality early childhood education programs, it has, in some ways, treated these educators like distant relatives instead of as the bulwark of the communities they serve.

That’s why we’re so pleased that this legislation establishes a task force charged with evaluating the accessibility of child care for working New Yorkers. We’ve been advocates for quality child care for years and provide training for thousands of our members annually. We’re proud to be at the forefront of providing the training our city’s early childhood educators need to earn a Child Development Associate credential from the Council for Professional Recognition.

While we believe a task force is the first step toward creating child care seats for every family who needs a spot, we urge you to ensure that representatives from the employee organizations working most closely with the providers are on the task force. Additionally, please make sure that there is geographic diversity. We believe that unionized workers are more knowledgeable about what comprises quality child care as well as what the state demands vis-a-vis safety regulations. And, obviously, having representation from different locations means the task force members will hear about a wider range of experiences and different needs.

Building a pathway to statewide quality child care

Once formed, the task force could make the following four recommendations to increase access to quality child care and improve the financial viability of this vital sector.

  • Advance a $100 million funding request for child care. This support would finance more vouchers and expand the provider pool to meet the need of more parents.
  • Reduce restrictive regulations that make compliance difficult and more punitive than instructive or developmental; instead utilize a user-friendly corrective model.
  • Support evidence-based, high-quality professional learning opportunities to better equip our home-based members to deliver age-appropriate skills instruction to children in their care.
  • Provide a raise for family child care providers and enable providers to care for children longer.

We know the task force will look at all the issues that prevent parents from finding quality care near their homes, including the percentage of the eligible population receiving a child care subsidy.

Some of those barriers are financial — we don’t provide enough seats where the need is greatest so parents have to scramble. New Yorkers shouldn’t have to quit a job because they can’t find child care near their homes or near their jobs. That’s why we also welcome the task force exploring the availability of child care for non-traditional work hours.

Some of the barriers, however, are regulatory in nature. Compliance with federal and state rules is sometimes pursued by regulators with a “gotcha” mentality and forces providers to work under the radar or go out of business, which serves no one’s interests.

Sometimes the barrier is no one in the neighborhood is trained in child development, or offers an age-appropriate curriculum, or gives parents the sense of security when leaving their baby or toddler for the day.

To solve the problem of access, we’ve asked the state to support a $100 million funding request for child care to finance more vouchers for parents, to expand our provider pool and to introduce more user-friendly technology to aid providers with instruction.

To ensure the quality of home-provided child care, the state needs to provide accessible professional development for our early childhood caregivers. The UFT has provided New York City’s providers with evidence-based, high-quality professional learning opportunities so they can deliver age-appropriate curriculum. We’ve partnered with curriculum development teams from the American Federation of Teachers and the UFT Teacher Center, which the state also funds, to deliver age-appropriate instructional support for our members.

As a side note, the UFT was pleased with the increased funding provided in the budget this year that helps us deliver these programs. Statewide we received $20 million for Teacher Centers, a $5.74 million increase over last year. This means New York City got an increase of 40% over last year for a total of $8.4 million. We can’t thank you enough for this support!

Our instruction strengthens the home-based child care profession by aligning evidence-based professional learning and curriculum development to the Pyramid Model for Supporting Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children. Our curriculum is designed for two- to three-year-olds and is centered around social-emotional learning with an additional component on autism.

Additionally, we’ve introduced the Successful Beginnings for Early Literacy Development (SBELD) — a Teacher Center-developed curriculum geared to preparing three-year-olds for kindergarten with supports and resources for our care providers. Further, we are particularly proud of our embedded coaching program. Teacher Center instructional coaches visit our providers’ homes to demonstrate how to use the curricula and how to adopt and sustain evidence-based best practices.

Finally, we provide scores of workshops for thousands of providers to teach them CPR, good practices in health and safety, infant care and managing a business. We encourage excellence in service through these sessions, answer questions and encourage networking between providers.

This programming serves two purposes: It results in better care for our children and it creates a career ladder for our members, encouraging them to become more expert in their field.

Our annual Early Childhood Conference held in March offers workshops for our early childhood education providers. Examples include using building blocks to solve problems, employing storytelling as an instructional technique, engaging English language learners and demonstrating how geometry can be used to aid language development. Plus, we have assisted members in their pursuit of national accreditation with the National Association for Family Child Care.

Supporting ongoing professional learning is not just a feel-good notion. It gets results. Our providers are on the front line for identifying children with developmental delays, among them children who show symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. We train our providers to observe development benchmarks and notice when children are not thriving. The earlier these delays are addressed by professionals, the better the long-term outlook for the child.

We also can’t ignore the opportunity presented by advances in technology and interactive media. As detailed in the position paper, Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8, “The shift to new media literacies and the need for digital literacy that encompasses both technology and media literacy will continue to shape the world in which young children are developing and learning.” 1

Utah achieved promising literacy results by introducing a computer-based early learning program. UPSTART — Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow — “consists of computer-based lessons, games, books, and activities that stress phonics, phonemic awareness, comprehension, and vocabulary and language concepts.” 2

At the end of the day, we’re creating greater equity for the children in our care. Through our workshops and professional development sessions, we help providers bridge the gap for children in need. The UFT encourages the state to enhance this funding, which provides quality training for our family day care providers so early interventions can be implemented.

To encourage our providers to further their training, we also need to provide financial incentives. It serves all of our interests to encourage them to improve their skills. Our members work long hours for little pay and they have little financial incentive to spend the time and effort on becoming credentialed. In all other fields, the more credentialed you are, the more you earn. Fortunately, many of our members pursue professional development to hone their skills out of pride but the financial incentive to remain in the early childhood education world is sorely lacking.

Further, to prevent providers from closing shop or going underground, we need to reduce restrictive regulations that penalize providers financially. We believe in a user-friendly corrective model, geared to developing best practices and creating positive outcomes. This best serves our families because they can be assured of safe facilities.

Additionally, we also believe we need to re-examine the reimbursement rates for family providers, which have remained flat over the years even as recent federal regulations caused provider expenses to increase.

The UFT is also staunchly committed to achieving a raise for family child care providers. Child care providers will not see a raise because the state considers them independent contractors whose pay rate is set by the state’s “market rate survey.” The state’s recent decision to decrease the percentile of that market rate from 75 percent to 69 percent has, on the contrary, translated into a drop in pay for family child care providers even as the costs of living and doing business increase. 

Quality care enables young children to thrive, families to work and providers to stay in business. Currently, according to the most optimistic estimates, only 27 percent of income-eligible families have access to subsidized care in the five boroughs. What does this say about our state’s priorities? What does it say about our state’s commitment to the workforce?

Our providers make far below the state’s much-lauded $15-an-hour statewide minimum wage, and it drops even further when you divide it by the actual hours worked. These financial factors contribute to the further destabilization of a child care system that is already failing to meet the demand for spaces.

New York State has led the nation in education reform and in raising the bar for student achievement. With the recent focus on the importance of early childhood education in paving the way to success in elementary school, we believe New York State can also lead the nation in providing every working parent with high-quality, safe and age-appropriate child care.


Notes

1“Utah Finds Computer-Based Early-Learning Program Offers Literacy Boost,” Christina Samuels, EdWeek, May 17, 2016

2“Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8,” National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media t St. Vincent College, joint position statement, Jan. 2012

 

 

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