De Blasio allies push day care, afterschool funding

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Children at day care in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
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Several dozen early childhood education and afterschool providers called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund up to 20 programs currently facing closure in the executive budget, in a press conference at City Hall on Monday hosted by the Campaign for Children.

The funding issue could put de Blasio on a collision course with some of his administration's most stalwart allies on education issues. Many of the providers who rallied on Monday offer pre-kindergarten programs as part of de Blasio's signature pre-K initiative. 

Advocates were careful to praise de Blasio in general, but indicated that they were willing to engage in a high-stakes confrontation over funding. 

"The de Blasio administration in conjunction with the City Council has set us on a path forward," said Stephanie Gendell, the associate executive director of the Citizens Committee for Children, referring to expansions in pre-K and afterschool programs for middle schoolers. "We are now at a crossroads," she added, "We can either continue forward along this path or we can take steps backwards. We need to use this budget this year to take important steps forward, not backwards."

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Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the mayor, indicated Monday that funding for the 13 threatened afterschool programs would be restored. 

"There will be funding for these vital services," she said in a statement on Monday. "We expect this to be resolved at budget adoption."

Advocates say the city has allowed leases to lapse for crucial programming for children from infancy to age 3, and for afterschool for all ages, not just middle school students.

Spitalnick said landlords have increased rent for providers.

"Providing affordable, quality early education is a priority for this administration, and we are working with all impacted families to find appropriate placements for their children," she said. Deputy mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli said last week that the administration was considering buying new buildings to keep the day care centers in operation. 

The Campaign for Children is specifically calling on the city to fund elementary school afterschool programs with $8.8 million and to prevent the 20 sites, which advocates say would affect nearly 600 children, from closure.

"We're in a crisis right now," said Jeremy Reiss, deputy development director at the Henry Street Settlement, which offers UPK services along with other programs on the Lower East Side. Reiss said that the Boys and Girls Republic Program, which offers afterschool and summer programming out of Henry Street is facing closure and called on the city to fund Boys and Girls and programs like it.

David Kupecky, the associate executive director of Boys and Girls Club of Metro Queens, said in an interview last week that he believes afterschool programming for elementary school students is being ignored in favor of middle schoolers.

"The mayor's initiatives are very clear. They are U.P.K. and afterschool programs for middle school students. And in the middle, there are elementary schools and they are being forgotten about," he said. "There's no elementary school talk," he added. 

Another representative from a key pre-K provider for de Blasio, Gregory Brender, the co-director of policy and advocacy at United Neighborhood Houses, led Monday's press conference. United Neighborhood Houses oversees 38 community-based organizations (C.B.O.s), many of which offer pre-K.

Advocates also used Monday's press conference to rally around salary disparities between pre-K teachers, a major problem for many providers, and a serious challenge for the de Blasio administration as pre-K continues to expand. Teachers in C.B.O.s, which make up the majority of pre-K providers, are paid significantly less than their pre-K instructor counterparts in Department of Education public schools. 

C.B.O. teachers also generally have fewer and less generous benefits than D.O.E. teachers. 

Last year, the de Blasio administration pledged to spend nearly $17 million to address the differences, but advocates say it's still not enough. 

Kathy Hopkins, the assistant director of the Warren Street Center for Children and Families in Gowanus, said the disparities have created a "disenfranchised work force." 

Councilman Mathieu Eugene of Brooklyn also spoke at Monday's press conference, and said he would push the administration to restore funding for the programs. 

The Campaign for Children has already notched a victory for afterschool programs, securing $20 million for 34,000 summer programming seats for middle school students last month after weeks of advocacy and a nudge from the Council. 

Public Advocate Letitia James is also planning her own education-related budget advocacy this week. Her staff announced that James will deliver a letter to de Blasio calling for universal free lunch for city schoolchildren. 

The executive budget handshake between the mayor and Council could happen as soon as Monday night, according to City Hall sources.

—additional reporting by Sally Goldenberg