Teachers at prekindergarten programs offered by community-based early childhood centers in New York City will receive a $2,500 signing bonus and a $3,500 retention bonus, officials said Wednesday.
The move to boost the pay of teachers working outside of public school buildings comes as the city gears up for the second year of Mayor Bill de Blasio's expanded pre-K initiative.
"This is part of the mayor and chancellor's effort to bring one unified high-quality system for prekindergarten throughout the city," said Deputy Schools Chancellor Josh Wallack, referring to Chancellor Carmen Farina.
Wallack said the city wants to signal that pre-K is "an exciting career for our most talented educators."
The promise of a classroom for every 4-year-old was the signature issue of de Blasio's 2013 mayoral campaign.
Because there wasn't enough space for new pre-K classes in the city's public schools, 21,000 of the 53,000 full-day pre-K seats in the 2014-2015 school year were in community-based programs such as day-care centers and private religious schools.
Critics warned that the quality of instruction would be lower at the early childhood centers because teachers' pay was lower.
The city Department of Education says pre-K teachers at the early childhood centers earn $44,000 a year with a bachelor's degree and $50,000 with a master's degree.
The starting salary for district school teachers is $49,908 with a bachelor's and $56,104 with a master's.
The signing bonus and retention bonus are intended to help bridge the gap.
"It begins to do more to level the playing field," said Sherry Cleary, director of the Early Childhood Professional Development Institute at the City University of New York.
The city is planning for more than 70,000 full-day pre-K seats in the 2015-2016 school year.
Officials expect to pay signing bonuses to about 800 pre-K teachers and retention bonuses to another 800.
They say the cost of the program, an estimated $5.8 million including increases to some fringe benefits, will be covered by city funds already earmarked for pre-K.
Moria Cappio, vice president of early childhood program at the Children's Aid Society, said the effort is welcome at her organization, which runs 30 pre-K classrooms around the city.
"The fact that the city is investing in this critical work force is just so commendable," Cappio said.