Monday, May 7, 2012

NYC Budget Cuts Damage Our Children

Our guest writer this week is Richard Buery, Jr., President and CEO of The Children's Aid Society.

On Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg announced his $68.7 billion budget proposal, and for the fifth straight year, his budget slashes early childhood and after school programs.   

Nonsensical Cuts
With Wall Street tax revenues lower than predicted and our city still recovering from the economic downtown, I understand that the city has difficult choices to make.  But decimating these critical programs for children is just the wrong choice to make.

From his Young Men's Initiative to improve outcomes for young people of color, to his plans to serve juveniles in supportive programs here in New York City rather than upstate juvenile jails, to the groundbreaking poverty-fighting initiatives of his Center for Economic Opportunity, the Mayor has demonstrated his sincere commitment to the poor and working-class children of New York City.   And while I haven't agreed with every element of his education reform policies, he has bravely asked to be judged as the "education mayor."   Our expectations of what a public education system can and should be expected to deliver for poor children have been changed forever.

That is why the mayor's proposed cuts to early childhood education and after-school programs make absolutely no sense.  We all understand how important it is to keep kids engaged and on track beginning at a very early age.  Every $1 spent on high-quality early childhood programs for a disadvantaged child creates up to$9 in future benefits -- in new taxes collected and more productive workers, and fewer dollars spent on publicly subsidized health care, prisons and the like.  A great early childhood program prepares students for school - any kindergarten teacher can tell you about the importance of these resources.

Quality after-school and summer programs are similarly critical for children's development.  A study by Fight Crime:Invest in Kids New York found that the majority of juvenile crime occurs between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.  Children who are consistently involved in stimulating, educational activities grow up to be smart, safe and productive members of society. They are more likely to go to college, get jobs, support their families and less likely to end up on the streets, involved in gangs or in prison. After-school programs not only help children succeed in school, but they also keep them off of the streets.

Once upon a time, the Mayor understood this.  He has said, "Teaching doesn't stop when the last school bell rings." He created the city's Out-of-School Time initiative, a nationally recognized effort to bring high-quality after-school and summer programs to kids, declaring that what happens after school is as important as what happens during the school day.

Impact of the Cuts

The combined effects of the mayor's proposed budget and structural changes to both the early childhood and after-school systems will eliminate programs for an additional 47,000 children. This is the latest in a series of reductions. Come September, a total of 90,000 kids will have lost their early childhood or after-school programs since 2009 -- a 2/3 reduction. Every city agency has faced cuts, but I am not aware of any other program that has been forced to absorb cuts at that scale.  The city recently announced the winners of the newest round of Out-of-School Time contracts, and nearly half of programs city wide will be closing their doors.

In Central Harlem, only 5.7% of eligible families will have access to early childhood education.

And the impact goes beyond education and safety -- it's an economic tragedy as well.  For the working parents we serve, these programs are a life line to the workforce.  Consider Lilibet.  For her, raising two sons alone, working full-time and living paycheck to paycheck, The Children's Aid Society's after school programs mean the difference between going to work and supporting her family or staying home and relying on public benefits. How could it possibly benefit us as a city to drive her, and thousands like her, from the workforce?

As the New York Times said in a recent editorial, "Mr. Bloomberg and the Council need to do a lot more for the citys neediest children." We cannot balance our budgets on the backs of these, our neediest New Yorkers.

The cuts will be particularly devastating to low-income children and their families. One in three children in New York, and two in three public school children, live in poverty.  These have been difficult years for those New Yorkers at the bottom of the economic ladder.  We have already cut their services to the bone, and our waiting lists are the longest they have ever been.  Further reductions will devastate the very children who the mayor has championed in both his philanthropy and public service.

When he was asked about these cuts, the Mayor responded "We can't do everything we want in the size and frequency that you would like, but the objective is to try to balance and make choices and we will try to do that and do it responsibly like we've been doing for 10 years." 

He is absolutely right.  A budget is, at the end of the day, a series of choices.  It tells you what is critical and what is expendable.  It tells you who matters and who does not.

The Mayor's budget says that needy children and working families don't matter.  Several of my colleagues in the fields of early childhood and afterschool have launched the Campaign for Children to remind him otherwise.  I urge you to join us -- our children need all the support they can get.  

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