Brigid Bergin, Reporter
Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday continued to push ahead with his plan to expand universal pre-kindergarten this fall, even though it’s unclear how much money the state will make available to pay for it.
The city plans to hire 2,000 new pre-k teachers over two years, starting with 1,000 teachers for new full-day programs that the city wants to add by this September.
The bulk of new classes would be run by community-based organizations contracted by the Education Department. The remaining classes would be located in public schools.
“We’re going to help both our school system and our community-based organizations find and recruit and train and retain the best trained and most talented teachers available,” de Blasio said at City Hall, as lawmakers in Albany worked through their final week of budget negotiations.
The mayor had pushed for a tax on wealthy New Yorkers to pay for pre-k, which put him at odds with Governor Cuomo who opposes the tax. Cuomo has said the final budget will include money to pay for pre-k, although the exact dollar amount is still subject to negotiation.
Senate lawmakers also proposed fully funding Mayor de Blasio's plan for expanding pre-k, without the tax. Lawmakers have until April 1 to finalize a budget.
In the meantime, the city is preparing for new classes. It wants to make full-day seats available to more than 53,000 4-year-olds, up from the approximately 20,000 full-day seats currently offered through public schools and community organizations. The city is confident it can expand pre-k that quickly, even though lessons from other model programs show that it can take years to increase enrollment.
The city's Department of Education anticipates having an applicant pool of up to 8,000 teachers, said Sophia Pappas, executive director of the Office of Early Childhood Education.
She said the city had already received an increase in applications for pre-k positions, with plans for a subway ad campaign in May, hiring events in the coming months and a new webpage devoted to pre-k recruitment. The city is also partnering with the City University of New York to recruit and train teachers for a second phase of pre-k expansion in September 2015.
But lingering on the sidelines is the question of how well the city will be able to recruit teachers for positions in community organizations — which will do the majority of hiring — given the pay disparity between pre-k teachers in community organizations and pre-k teachers in public schools.
The starting salary for a teacher in a public school is $45,530, according to the union contract. In contrast, at one organization, experienced teachers with a masters degree make around that much. However, where public school teachers must have early childhood certification before they begin teaching, teachers at community organizations can work toward certification, as long as they earn it within five years.
The mayor's plan asserts that teachers in community organizations would "earn a salary sufficient to attract and retain them." But the city did not define a sufficient salary or say how it would help community organizations pay teachers.