It’s the budget dance!
It’s that wonderful time of the year when advocacy groups take turns on the steps of City Hall protesting the budget cuts in their areas of interest. Last week, we reported on some advocates angry with the city’s proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS services in the mayor’s budget unveiled last month. Those guys went all out. Today, we’ve got for you another campaign of upset folks — this time targeting potential losses to the city’s after-school and child care programs.
Advocates from this newly-formed coalition called Campaign for Children say that this is more than just the typical dance, arguing that this time the proposed cuts threaten to significantly hurt early childhood education in the city.
The group released a report today that says that between 2009 and today, more than 43,000 New York City children have already lost access to affordable child care and after-school programs. They argue that if the mayor doesn’t restore funding, an additional 47,000 children and families will be shut out of these programs.
“The city has to take a real look at what is expected out of this new proposal and can it be achieved and what will that mean when it cannot be possible?” City Councilwoman Diana Reyna told Runnin’ Scared this afternoon after an unrelated event. “Right now, we are looking at what are multiple layers of issues regarding an attack on the child care system.”
Advocates said that, at its height in 2009, the city’s Out-of-School Time, or OST, program — which provides free academic and recreational activities for K-12 students — served 85,000 children, but now only serves 52,000 youth. Proposed cuts, the report says, could reduce current capacity by half, meaning hundreds of currently-operating elementary and middle school programs could have to close their doors.
Those protesting the budget are also targeting the potential loss of $52.9 million worth of child care services starting in July. They say that the city’s transition to a program called Early Learn NYC has good intentions of improving child care quality, but lacks the necessary funding to be successful and reach all the students who need it. The advocates argue that 15,900 fewer children will have access to child care by the end of 2012, in part because the budget proposal does not stabilize funding that was restored last year. (Officials from the city noted that that figure includes 8,200 that the city is proposing to cut, plus 7,700 slots which were only made possible from a one-time funding plan for fiscal year 2012 from the mayor).
The mayor has repeatedly said that early childhood education and after-school programs are vital, in January calling on the state to increase funding for OST.
But Stephanie Gendell, associate executive director for the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, told Runnin’ Scared that it seems hypocritical that the mayor is threatening cuts to vital programs at this time.
“It’s very frustrating, because on one hand, the mayor supports these types of programs…and he has committed himself to improving the education system for kids. He says he’s committed to closing the achievement gap,” she said by phone after a City Hall rally. “Yet these are the programs that would really enable children to succeed.”
While she said the “budget dance” does happen every year, it feels particularly threatening this time around. “This year the enormity of the cuts…is just so severe that we formed this campaign…to try to make sure everyone’s aware how detrimental this could be.”
Councilwoman Reyna told us that the city has not done a good job considering the larger impacts of cuts to child care and after-school, noting that if more children don’t have safe places to learn and spend time out of school — and if more parents are unable to go to work because they no longer have access to child care — then, “the indirect costs to the city are going to be astronomical. And that is not factored in.”
Samantha Levine, spokeswoman for the mayor, said in a statement to Runnin’ Scared, “Economic realities have required difficult funding decisions, but we are working within our means to provide critical services. For example, Early Learn NYC enables us to realize our vision of preparing children for school success by providing quality classroom experiences and critical family supports while investing our limited resources in expanding or sustaining capacity in neighborhoods where the largest number of eligible children reside.”
Runnin’ Scared also reached out to the city’s Youth and Community Development department, which oversees OST, and we’ll update if we hear back.