State lawmakers’ pre-K ideas threaten private day care centers — and their economic impact

There are growing concerns among those who provide early childhood education in New Jersey, a demographic of 87,000 employees working in more than 4,165 centers, serving an estimated 400,000 children.

Lawmakers in Trenton continue to introduce legislation that would have a negative effect on these private centers and our ability to provide strong, ongoing jobs for so many who enjoy working in this sector.

The Early Childhood Education Advocates Inc., comprising professionals within the early childhood education community, was formed earlier this year to educate state lawmakers about the pitfalls of their proposals that directly threaten the livelihoods of so many.

One of the most alarming initiatives is the campaign to push to move 3- and 4-year-olds out of private day care and enroll them in the public school districts. Yet, most public schools do not have the space and the students are being redirected back to us, under guidelines of the state Department of Education.

Confusing? Yes.

Under this program, the public schools would form “public-private partnerships” with the local day care centers. Many private day care centers — who were happily running their businesses without this intervention for years — now feel forced to enter into partnerships with the public schools.

If day care centers don’t participate, they are rightfully concerned that public schools would run them out of business, directing all the children elsewhere.

At best, this public-private partnership could best be described as an odd arrangement. Follow the logic:

School districts must follow state education guidelines, as the DOE provides funding. But private day care centers are regulated through the state Department of Children & Families, which has its own stringent rules for day care centers that are inconsistent with the DOE.

This public-private partnership, under DOE rules, will ultimately force some day care providers to close. Here is why:

  • The DOE limits the number of children in a classroom to 15.
  • DOE rules dictate that even pre-K teachers must have undergraduate degrees in education or a teaching certificate for preschool to grades 3.
  • DOE rules dictate teacher salaries must start at $54,000 per year. Teacher assistants must start at $13 per hour.
  • The school district receives approximately $16,500 per year, per student, and in turn pays the day care provider approximately $12,500, generating a $4,000 profit for no reason.
  • DOE rules limit the profits for day care providers to 2.5% in the pre-K classrooms that participate in this state-run program.

Meanwhile, private day care providers are bracing for more state legislation that bolsters school districts with more taxpayer money for pre-K programs. These laws would take more students out of private day care centers or generate more of these controversial “public-private partnerships” that further tilt the scales toward the schools, while hurting private business for zero benefit.

If you happen to be a parent of a child in a day care center, or you are someone who supports local business in your community, just look at this proposed legislation:

One bill, A214, would appropriate an additional $103 million for school districts to add more pre-school programs, pulling more children out of private child care centers. Another bill, A667, would earmark $110 million for full-day preschool programs for more school districts. There’s another bill, A3865/S1055, that would require all school districts to provide full-day kindergarten.

We all support public schools; they are the backbone of a strong community. But we must also support local businesses, as well as our neighbors and friends. Many day care providers are local entrepreneurs, while employees are local, taxpaying residents who rely on a solid, reliable job to support their families. Our lawmakers may be unaware, but 5.9% of the total female workforce in New Jersey are employed in day care.

Meanwhile, private day care centers support the commercial real estate market, renting approximately 22 to 25 million square feet of space and paying in excess of $100 million per year in local property taxes.

We recognize that our state lawmakers have many challenges and many constituencies. But they need to realize that legislation can have sweeping effects far beyond the intent. Yes, you can spend taxes to put day care in schools; yet, you then destroy a business sector that generates upwards of $3.8 billion a year.

In the end, who wins?

Guy Falzarano is president of Early Childhood Education Advocates Inc.