Testimony on Public PreK Mixed-Delivery Model: We Must Also Support NJ’s Fragile Child Care Infrastructure

Posted on June 6, 2024


TO: Members of the Senate Education Committee

FROM: Shadaya Bennett, Senior Legislative Analyst, Advocates for Children of New Jersey

DATE: June 3, 2024

RE: New Jersey's Public Preschool Mixed-Delivery Model

Chairman Gopal, Majority Ruiz, and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on New Jersey’s preschool mixed delivery system.

My name is Shadaya Bennett, and I am the Senior Legislative Analyst at the Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

ACNJ is committed to ensuring all children have access to high-quality care and education in safe and enriching environments. We know that access to high quality early care and education supports healthy development and provides a pathway to social, emotional, and academic success.

New Jersey has long been recognized as a national leader in providing high-quality preschool education. ACNJ has been at the forefront of those efforts. Over twenty years ago, ACNJ’s former President and CEO, Cecilia Zalkind, played a pivotal role in advocating before the State Supreme Court for high-quality standards in New Jersey’s state-funded preschool programs. Her efforts, along with the Early Care Coalition, were instrumental in initiating the Abbott v. Burke decision, which mandated public preschool in 31 of the state’s most economically disadvantaged districts. This decision laid the foundation for New Jersey’s nationally recognized mixed delivery preschool model, and paved the way for preschool expansion.

More recently, ACNJ has also been at the forefront of raising awareness about preschool expansion and helping community providers navigate related processes to promote collaboration and equip stakeholders with the necessary tools to serve children effectively.

As New Jersey expands access to free public preschool, we want to highlight the need for a strong system that supports the continuum of care for children birth to age five. While we fully support universal pre-K, we recognize that there are unintended consequences related to expansion which negatively impact our already fragile child care system. Therefore, 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.

We recommend that New Jersey adopt a strong, well-conceived mixed-delivery system. This would include creating sustainable partnerships between school districts and community providers; aligning classroom size requirements with Department of Children and Families licensing standards; and supporting the workforce through provisions, such as, pay parity between in district and provider site teachers. Additionally, to incentivize school districts to partner with community providers, it is recommended that a certain percentage of funding for new preschool expansion aid be designated for those that commit to partnering with providers in the community through mixed-delivery. These are all examples of measures that would mitigate barriers for community providers who seek to participate in the statewide preschool program and would foster a more inclusive and effective early care and education landscape.

While we all recognize that a mixed-delivery system is essential to achieving New Jersey's mission of providing high-quality preschool at no cost to families, it is imperative to preserve programs that already offer vital supports to the same population. Child care is everyone’s business. Providers operate small businesses that provide a public good. Child care is the system by which our youngest residents are nurtured and educated outside of the home and it plays a crucial role in our state’s economic ecosystem. Therefore, supporting its infrastructure within our broader education system through a solid mixed-delivery system is vital.

I now turn it over to my colleague, Dr. Winifred Smith-Jenkins, who with over twenty years of unique experience and expertise in early childhood education can elaborate on the challenges within the system and recommended solutions.