Jewish Organization Scoops Large Portion of City’s Day Care Funding

The Duffield Children's Center, a day care in Brooklyn, was recommended for funding for 40 slots under the city's EarlyLearn NYC program. Other centers were not so lucky. (Photo by Kerri MacDonald / The Local Fort Greene)

While we have seen some coverage in the mainstream press of the pending cuts in subsidized day care, The Jewish Daily Forward recently dug into a question that has remained under the radar — as the city restructures its funding system for day care programs, who has benefited from the changes, and at whose expense?

One winner under the new system, The Forward reports, is the Jewish religious organization B’Above Worldwide Institute, which is on a city list of organizations recommended for lucrative contracts (PDF). The losers, The Forward reports, include many groups who have been running early-childhood programs in areas that B’Above will now operate — and the children who those programs served.

A Hasidic rabbi’s little-known childcare network has stoked tensions throughout New York City by beating out scores of well-established groups to win a huge contract for subsidized day care programs.

The network, called B’Above Worldwide Institute, is set to receive contracts worth roughly $31 million annually for 3,000 children at 42 day care centers under New York City’s newly reorganized subsidized child care system. That’s 1,000 more children than will be served by the city’s next-largest subsidized child care network. All this for an organization that many in the field say they had never heard of a month ago.

B’Above said that only half of its new seats will serve Jewish children. And other Jewish-run groups have operated subsidized child care programs in non-Jewish communities. But B’Above’s contract is unprecedented in its size, and many of the centers it will run will replace longstanding neighborhood organizations, upsetting delicate political balances and infuriating elected officials representing both Jewish and non-Jewish neighborhoods.

Although many of B’Above’s slots for children — and those of two other Jewish day care networks recommended for large contracts — will be in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods such as Crown Heights, Williamsburg and Boro Park, the programs will be open to non-Jewish children, officials told The Forward. Some who work in child care worried, however, that the organization may be off-putting to some parents.

“They’re recognized as a religious group,” said Andrea Anthony, executive director of the Day Care Council, a membership organization for publicly funded day care programs. “I question whether some parents will place their children there… Remember, parents have to feel comfortable.”

Under a new city system for funding day care, EarlyLearn NYC, all child care organizations, including ongoing programs, must apply for funding through an open proposals process, and must show that they can raise funding for a portion of their operating costs. City officials touted the program as a way to improve early childhood care for low-income New Yorkers, but funding cuts and the increased per-student cost under the program mean that the program will serve 8,200 fewer children next year, according to a New York Times analysis. The Forward reports:

Advocates and elected officials have criticized the allocation of EarlyLearn contracts for failing to fund longstanding neighborhood institutions.

“EarlyLearn is an early disaster,” said [Letitia] James, the councilwoman. “The members of the City Council are urging the administration to go back to the table to fund the existing providers.”

In Boro Park, Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander condemned the EarlyLearn allocation for cutting off Beth Jacob, a decades-old Head Start program.

A spokesperson for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), which oversees EarlyLearn, did not respond to repeated requests for comment submitted by the Forward.

Councilwoman James, who represents parts of Brooklyn, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking ACS to release information about all the proposals submitted for funding under EarlyLearn, as well as the agency’s reason for choosing the groups that made it to the recommended list. She announced the move on her blog:

Several centers in my district will be closed as a result of this RFP and many others have been significantly downsized as slots have been diverted to lesser known centers in and around the community. The citywide effect is even more detrimental. Over 6,500 children will be left without a slot come this November as a result of EarlyLearn. I believe something is extremely wrong with this picture and it is our time now to stand up and say enough is enough.

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