March 6, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
The non-profit and advocacy community, elected officials and working families took to the steps on City Hall on Monday, March 5 to tell the assembled media that Mayor Michael Bloomberg must rescind proposed cuts to early childhood education and after-school programs outlined in the 2013 preliminary budget.
The Campaign for Children, a collaboration between the Emergency Coalition to Save Child Care and the Youth Alliance, officially launched its campaign yesterday to ensure that after-school services are protected.
According to the campaign, 43,000 slots for after-school programs have been eliminated since 2009. Officially known as the Out-of-School Time program, run by the Department of Youth and Community Development, it provides a mix of academic, recreational and cultural activities for young people (grades K-12).
The Mayor’s FY 2013 preliminary budget proposal calls for an additional 47,000 slots to be cut, which would result in a 61.1 percent reduction of available slots since 2009. (See chart)
Numerous speakers spoke about the negative repercussions to children, society and the economy if the cuts aren’t rolled back. Richard Buery, Jr., CEO of the Children’s Aid Society, which serves the City’s neediest children and their families, said, “We all know what happens when children don’t have access to early childhood or quality after-school programs—most youth crimes occur between 3:00 and 6:00 pm, the time between when school lets out and parents come home from work.”
The speakers emphasized that the early childhood education and after-school programs serve multiple purposes. They not only provide students with quality programs to supplement their public school education, but also allow working, middle-income parents to stay employed as they know their children are in safe places.
Indeed, Nancy Wackstein of United Neighborhood Housing, which works to provide children with opportunities for quality education, said, “This program [OST] is not just a baby-sitting program, but one that exposes students to art, drama, college preparation and academic work.”
In addition to the cuts, the campaign noted that the Mayor’s EarlyLearn proposal, “which actually includes a very good vision of a quality childcare system,” said Wackstein, will actually contribute to fewer slots because the lack of money to support EarlyLearn will result in 10,000 fewer children being served.
Buery echoed Wackstein’s sentiment by adding, “The proposed cuts are frustrating because this administration deserves incredible credit for building the OST system, but, unfortunately, the vision isn’t matched with the necessary resources.”
To illustrate the significance of the potential cuts, James R. O’Neill, President of Sports & Arts in Schools Foundation, said that currently there are over 420 schools in the city with OST programs. “If the cuts go through, there’ll be whole neighborhoods without the program. We have to fight to keep this program alive.”
Earlier in the morning, the City Council was examining the FY 2013 preliminary budget. Council Member Jumaane Williams of District 45 in Brooklyn attended the hearing before arriving at City Hall. He told LaborPress that nothing was said at the City Council meeting about the lucrative and billions’ worth of outsourced contracts the city pays to different private vendors to complete an array of projects.
“The outsourced contracts are worth about $10.5 billion. This is one area where we can save money and direct it towards early childhood education and after-school programs to support, rather than cutting them.”
He noted that the Department of Education’s budget for private contracts alone has gone up by about $200 million. “As we’ve learned, a lot of these contracts haven’t been offered up for proper bidding.”
Two working parents also spoke at the rally. One said the OST program has provided her daughter with the opportunity to realize her creativity in the classroom and on stage, as well as helping her son manage his anger issues, which she couldn’t resolve alone because she works.
Another parent said, “I can go to work with peace of mind knowing that my children are in a safe place where they are learning drama and art, activities that have been cut in the public schools.” She added, “These programs show my children that there’s more to learning than reading, writing and arithmetic.”