ACNJ Testifies at Senate Hearing Focused on Mixed-Delivery Preschool Model

Posted on June 6, 2024

On June 3rd, ACNJ with other advocates and partners participated in a public hearing on the state's full-day public preschool mixed-delivery model. The NJ Senate Education Committee wanted to learn how well school districts were partnering with local child care providers in the state's effort to expand public preK. Organizations testifying included the National Institute for Early Education Research (NJAECY), NJ Business & Industry Association (NJBIA), NJ Early Care & Education Consortium, NJ YMCA State Alliance, NJ Head Start Association, Dr. Lisa Goldey, Tinton Falls School District Superintendent, and individual #NJchildcare providers from Jersey City, Bayonne, Trenton, Oakhurst, and Tinton Falls.

Learn about New Jersey's nationally recognized mixed-delivery preschool model.

Since 2018, with preK expansion a top priority, Governor Murphy and the Legislature have increased preschool funding by more than $427 million.

As the state continues to expand public preschool, we need a strong system that supports the continuum of care for children birth to age five. This requires addressing the unintended consequences related to expansion. New Jersey must be deliberate in structuring and expanding preschool delivery while considering the sustainability of the child care infrastructure to prevent reducing the availability of infant and toddler slots, which could lead to child care center closures and restricted access for families statewide.

ACNJ's Recommendations:

Addressing the Barrier to Collaboration

Recommendation 1: Align the Department of Education’s square footage requirements for community providers, which is currently 63.3 sq feet per child, with the Department of Children and Families' Office of Licensing guidelines of 35 sq. feet per child like most of the United States. It is important to note, that this misalignment only occurs in NJ and New Hampshire.

According to a recent report, more than 62% of NJ providers cannot meet the DOE sq. footage requirement, which means many providers cannot collaborate with their local school districts, thus risking the sustainability of their businesses as well as the availability of infant and toddler care throughout our state. In Fall 2022, of the nearly 20,000 preschool students in districts funded through PreK Expansion, only 3,300, or 17%, are in private providers or Head Start classrooms.

As it stands now, in order for a community provider who is already educating students 3- and 4-year-olds to participate in the public preschool program, they would need to combine two classrooms into one, thus further limiting child care availability or find additional space and undergo the lengthy, expensive, and daunting child care licensing process before being able to collaborate.

Recommendation 2: Form a stakeholder group composed of child care and Head Start providers participating and not participating in the public preschool program, representatives from NIEER, NJAEYC, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Human Services, advocates, and school districts to work with the DOE to modernize the provider contract. This will help remove barriers to collaboration, reduce administrative burdens, and fix funding formulas that disincentivize retaining infant and toddler programs within community provider sites.

Recommendation 3: Establish legislation that treats child care providers collaborating with public schools as a protected vendor class in school contracts, allowing multi-year contracts to secure funding for facility upgrades and new program start-up costs. The current one-year contract makes it nearly impossible for community providers to secure bank loans to cover the long-term financial investments needed for collaboration with the school district. Additionally, it offers no assurance that the collaboration will continue beyond the current school year, creating an imbalanced power dynamic between the school district and the provider.

Addressing Fractures in the Current System (focusing on workforce, enrollment, funding, and pay parity).

Recommendation #1 Workforce: Provide financial support and time for non-certified public preschool teachers to return to school and become degreed teachers. This includes funding for books, child care, transportation, and remedial courses, with pay increases as milestones are met similar to what we did during the early days of Abbott. In December 2023, we surveyed Abbott providers across our state, and 96 providers responded. Of those, 65% stated that they currently have substitute teachers in the classroom due to the challenges of finding certified teachers. A copy of that survey has been included in your packet today. Abbott districts are now losing their certified teachers, putting the achievement gap we worked so hard to close over the last 25 years in jeopardy of resurfacing. It is imperative that we do everything possible to support our current workforce while also working to build a pipeline for the future.

Recommendation #2 Enrollment: Launch a statewide public awareness campaign about public preschool and work with districts to reduce barriers to school enrollment. Ensure a fair distribution of student enrollment across in-district and provider sites. Reject proposals to open new preschool classrooms if provider sites are not fully enrolled. One provider surveyed in December stated, “The school district continues to open up in-district preschool classes and poach our parents to register with them instead of collaborating.” Moveover, we have heard similar comments from many other providers indicating to us the significance of this problem. We have also heard about school districts only allowing providers to educate three-year-olds as opposed to students ages three and four years old. This means yearly providers must recruit their full number of contracted slots while the district capitalizes on the community providers’ student population, limiting their recruitment needs and unduly penalizing providers. This is just one example of an unfair power dynamic that hurts partnerships.

Recommendation #3 Funding: Ensure that districts fully fund participating child care providers for all of their contracted slots. Currently, school districts are fully funded for their total reported enrollment but penalize community providers who are under-enrolled. When providers meet with the district’s fiscal specialist to create their budget for the upcoming year, they should review the number of contracted slots to determine if the allocation is appropriate. Once agreed upon, the contracted amount should be maintained without any cuts during the year.

Recommendation #4 Pay Parity: Clearly define and require pay parity between district teachers and teachers at provider sites. Again, according to our December survey, 6 out of 10 programs have lost P-3 certified teachers to the district. Providers have reported salary differences ranging from $15,000 to $25,000. Addressing this issue is essential for ensuring quality and equity across the preschool program.

Mixed delivery is vital to the sustainability of New Jersey’s child care system. By addressing these issues, we can ensure that all children have access to high-quality early education. With the support of the Legislature, we can solve these problems, protect community child care centers, and strengthen NJ’s mixed delivery system.