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March 29, 2021
Ramona Garcia’s 2-year-old daughter had only been attending early Head Start for a few weeks when her mom was notified that Frederick Douglass Children’s Aid would have to close its early childhood program that summer, in June 2021.
Garcia, who has big dreams for her toddler’s future, had planned on keeping her there until kindergarten. Now, she discovered, it was shutting down due to under-enrollment and lost city funding.
Garcia had received a voucher from the city’s Administration for Children’s Services when she’d adopted her little girl, but it had taken her ages to find a seat in a program that accepted them. In midwinter during a pandemic, she was back to square one, looking for a place to send her daughter while she went to her job as an administrative assistant.
But last week, everything changed for Garcia, and countless other parents with very young children citywide. That day, Garcia received another update, this one from the New York City Department of Education, saying that publicly funded 3-K had been newly expanded to all of the city’s 32 districts, including hers, in Harlem’s District 3.
The news was huge for Garcia. She had started to reluctantly accept that she might have had to travel to Upper Manhattan, or even the East Village to find a seat for her toddler. Now, she could secure one in her own neighborhood.
“I was amazed by the change,” she said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, now in the last year of his second and final term, has made early childhood education a cornerstone of his legacy, dating back to before he took office. The timing of the expansion was possible now, as the city recovers from COVID-19, due to the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package recently passed by Congress. Officials estimate the expansion could save families an estimated $10,000 a year. That’s a boon in particular to working mothers, who have dropped out of the workforce in droves during the pandemic, primarily because of child care responsibilities.
“As a matter of priorities, this is to me, unquestionably one of the highest priorities we can have in this city,” the mayor said at a Wednesday press conference. “And certainly one of the highest priorities within education. if you get early child education right, everything else works … what I’ve felt from the beginning is the investments in early childhood education, they have a profound impact on families, as you’ve heard. But they’re also where we get the biggest impact for the dollars we spend on education because if you get that foundation right, all other things are possible.”