By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hundreds of students, parents and allies rallied at a Sunset Park school and outside City Hall on Thursday, to protest a "doomsday" budget that would eliminate child care, Head Start and after-school programs for as many as 47,000 low-income city kids.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has cut child care and after-school programs for five consecutive years. While many of these cuts were later reversed by the City Council, his latest proposal would result in 90,000 fewer slots than in 2009, according to the advocacy group Campaign for Children.
The budget for Fiscal Year 2013 — which begins July 1 — would eliminate 15,368 child care slots and 32,333 after-school slots, 26,000 of them from a program called Out-of-School Time and 5,600 from the Beacon Program.
About half of Brooklyn’s approximately two dozen Out-of-School-Time programs would be shut down, said Campaign for Children, a non-profit advocacy program. The McKinley Beacon Program at I.S. 259 in Bensonhurst — which served more than 1,300 Brooklyn residents this year — is one of them.
“It would be terrible if it closed. Everyone would feel it, particularly working parents who need a place for their kids to go after school,” Laurie Windsor, president of the Community Education Council of School District 20, told the Brooklyn Eagle in April.
“I am absolutely outraged that the city would even think of closing this center,” Councilman Vincent Gentile said.
Funding for the award-winning PAZ after-school program at Sunset Park’s P.S. 24 will also be eliminated. PAZ serves 240 low-income kids from 3-6 p.m. after school and throughout the summer. The announcement that their program would be closed stunned the children, families, and staff, according to the center.
In his budget presentation on May 3, Mayor Bloomberg said that “spending restraint” allowed the city to balance its budget without tax increases.
This year’s cuts accompany the implementation of a new Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) program, EarlyLearn NYC — a total revamp of the structure of city subsidized childcare.
The stated goals of EarlyLearn sound commendable — to raise program standards and increase coordination of services — but critics say that the program will decimate long-time daycare programs previously supported by the city, leaving more than 6,000 child care slots permanently eliminated.
“One, the city has gone through the EarlyLearn RFP [Request for Proposals], and has rewarded fewer slots in day care and after-school, beginning October 1," said Jim Matison, executive director of the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society.. "As of July 1, the city is still under the old system. There’s an assumption there will be a return of funds for the next three months. If not, there will be a bloodbath.
“Some centers closed under the existing system are the same ones that are open on October 1,” Matison added. “This is where it ceases to be rational.”
Secondly, Matison said, “EarlyLearn will cut out thousands of slots. Families will be told to leave their kids will grandma or siblings, or quit their jobs. These are not pretty options.”
In a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request filed by Brooklyn Councilmember Letitia James (D - Fort Greene), James says there’s a problem with the criteria used to decide which day care centers would receive EarlyLearn funding — and that the plan doesn’t come close to providing enough daycare slots.
“Several centers in my district will be closed as a result of this RFP and many others have been significantly downsized as slots have been diverted to lesser known centers in and around the community. The citywide effect is even more detrimental,” she said in a statement. “Over 6,500 children will be left without a slot come this November as a result of EarlyLearn. I believe something is extremely wrong with this picture and it is our time now to stand up and say enough is enough.”
James wants ACS to release all of the proposals submitted to the EarlyLearn RFP, the justification for scores, and records of the negotiations leading to the decision about which daycare programs would receive funds.
As of Tuesday, 20 Community Boards had passed formal resolutions, with other board resolutions pending or under consideration.
"Now is not the time to cut services that parents so desperately need to help them maintain a stable and safe environment for their children,” said Benjamin Solotaire, chair of the Human Services Committee of Brooklyn Community Board 6. "We urge the mayor and the City Council to fully fund these essential programs in the final budget."
In addition, 57 school principals and 89 academics from graduate schools of education and social work urged city officials to consider the negative impact that cuts to child care and after-school would have on low-income children’s educational success.