Teachers, parents and children's advocates across New York City shuddered Thursday morning as Mayor Michael Bloomberg released his executive budget: Just as they feared, the budget failed to restore $170 million to child-care and after-school services that advocates deemed necessary to maintain the system's current capacity.
In March, when the mayor first proposed these cuts, scores of organizations around the city banded together to convince him to change his mind. A host of local politicians, including some generally dependable Bloomberg allies, like the City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, said the cuts would be unacceptable, and parents and teachers spoke out against them from the steps of City Hall.
But to no avail. “While Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to improve New York City’s education system are laudable, his consistent, massive cuts to after-school programs and early-childhood education are counter to his efforts to be the education mayor," said Richard Buery, the head of the Children's Aid Society, a 150-year-old organization that serves low-income children at dozens of locations around New York.
The mayor has cut child-care and after-school programs for five straight years, leaving 90,000 children total without these programs come September, advocates said. Buery estimated that this year alone, the combined effects of the cuts and an overhaul of the child-care and after-school systems would eliminate 15,900 child-care slots and slash after-school services for 31,800 children -- "programs proven to prepare children for school, support them while in school and help low-income, working parents keep their jobs."
A statement from the group United Neighborhood Houses called the cuts "nothing short of disgraceful."
"It is a hit to not only the 47,000 children who will lose the critical educational and social support they are provided through these programs, but to their parents, who will be forced to quit their jobs to take care of their children or leave them alone after the school day ends. Thousands of jobs will be lost at non-profit agencies with the shuttering of these programs."
Samantha Levine, a spokesperson for the administration, replied that the city's early-child-care program "remains among the most generous and comprehensive." She said the changes, which will reduce the number of programs, but ostensibly improve the quality of those that survive, "will strengthen the system, helping our youngest children develop socially and intellectually during the most important learning years of their lives.”
She did not comment on the cuts to the after-school system.
The cuts come at what advocates describe as a critical moment for low-income children around the country. Between 2000 and the start of the recession in 2008, the number of children living in poverty in America increased by 2.5 million, or 21 percent. Studies suggest that after-school and early-child-care programs can help break the cycle of poverty, but during the past 10 years, funding for these programs has plummeted.
Last month, the National Institute for Early Education Research, a research group based at Rutgers University, reported that state funding for preschool programs fell by more than $700 per child in the last decade, to an average of $4,151. From 2010 to 2011 alone, state funding decreased by about $60 million, following a $30 million cut the year before.
In response to that report, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "Our youngest learners will not be college and career ready if we slash preschool dollars."
Children's advocates in New York made similarly gloomy predictions Thursday. The city council has until the end of June to work out a final budget with the mayor's administration.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story said the administration cut $170 million to children's services. The actual number is closer to $70. Advocates' estimates of the funding needed to maintain the systems' current capacity accounts for the difference.