New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to increase the number of charter schools in the Big Apple has generated a lot of buzz since Bloomberg announced it last week. Charter schools are independent public schools that are publicly funded, publicly accountable, and free of charge to students, but operated by independent nonprofit boards, rather than school districts. In late September, Harvard researchers released a study showing that predominantly disadvantaged students who attend New York City’s public charter schools are making more progress towards closing the achievement gap with their suburban peers than a control group of NYC students who remained in NYC public schools.
Mayor Bloomberg has proposed a number of steps to expand the number of charter schools in New York City, including raising the state cap on the number of charter schools, raising additional funding for charter school facilities, and co-locating charter schools with public housing projects.
Bloomberg also proposed replicating the now famous Harlem Children’s Zone—which brings together preschool, a charter school, and social services to create a seamless pipeline moving poor children from birth to college—in central Brooklyn and the South Bronx. President Obama has already requested $10 million in funding this year to help more communities plan for initiatives like Harlem Children’s Zone.
Reading Bloomberg’s proposals, it occurred to us that mayors can use similar strategies to expand access to high-quality pre-K and child care in their communities. For example, by raising funds — from public or private sources — to help build, expand, or improve pre-K facilities, mayors can help schools and high-quality community-based providers increase the number of pre-K slots. Creating space for quality pre-K and childcare in public housing projects is also a promising way to both expand access to quality early childhood programs and help low-income parents access the care they need to work.
Mayor Bloomberg should keep high-quality early childhood programs in mind as he seeks to improve education in New York City — whether in charter schools or the New York City Public School System, over which he has control. New York City has had a lot of problems implementing the state pre-K program — in part because of mismatches between demand and supply for half- and full-day slots. Increasing the number of charter schools that offer quality educational programs for 4-year-olds — as NYC’s own Harlem Success Academy already does — is one way to expand access to high-quality pre-K, and also to support the creation of seamless PreK-3rd early learning experiences for young children.
The role of mayors in supporting quality early childhood is often overlooked. But smart mayors realize that cities with an adequate supply of both child care that meets the needs of working parents and quality early learning opportunities that prepare children for success in school, will have a leg up in a climate where human capital is increasingly critical to cities’ competitiveness.
Photo of Michael Bloomberg courtesy flickr user asterix611, used under a Creative Commons license.