Bloomberg's Latest Bargaining Chips? Low-Income Children
Photo Credit: Anthony Correia / Shutterstock.com
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After months of threatening New York City’s poorest communities with devastating cuts to after-school and child-care services, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday that he would restore funding for those programs rather than eliminating them. The announcement came at the last hour, with less than a week to spare before the final deadline. Bloomberg’s original Executive Budget, announced in May, would have left as many as 47,000 children without after-school or child care, most of them low-income children of color.
The mayor’s announcement is great news for the children of New York City, who, according to press releases from the mayor’s office, will actually have more after-school spots in 2013 than they did this past school year. But the fact that these programs won’t be destroyed after all shouldn’t let Bloomberg off the hook for what he was about to do. Last week, the Campaign for Children released an utterly damning case study highlighting exactly how disproportionately these cuts would have affected the city’s highest-need children. Looking at those numbers, it’s difficult to imagine how Bloomberg could have, for any amount of time, justified such unapologetic decimation of services for these communities.
Under the original budget, over 200 schools were set to lose after-school programs: 191 elementary and middle schools and 42 high schools. The four neighborhoods that would have experienced the most cuts -- up to a 91% loss in service -- were Washington Heights, Bushwick, Williamsburg/Greenpoint and the Morrisania section of the Bronx. The first three of those neighborhoods have the highest rates of childhood obesity in the city; low-income students, for a litany of reasons, are more likely to suffer from poor nutrition, obesity and related health problems, and the after-school programs Bloomberg planned to cut mandate regular physical activity, as well as provide healthy food.
In Morrisania, well over half of the children live under the federal poverty level, and the three other neighborhoods with the highest child poverty rates (Mott Haven, Brownsville and University Heights) were also bracing for massive losses -- as were the five neighborhoods in the city with the highest unemployment rates. The cuts were overwhelmingly concentrated in the Bronx, in schools where less than 30% of the students are reading at or above grade level and with high populations of English Language Learners.
Now, though, according to the mayor, “Tens of thousands of families can rest assured that the daycare, early childhood education and after-school programs they depend on, will be there for them.” Of course, Bloomberg only declared that parents could “rest assured” after many of the city’s after-school programs had already closed for the year -- after thousands of children were forced to say goodbye to the after-school teachers they have known since kindergarten, thinking there would be nothing to come back to next year. And after parents spent all of May and most of June panicking, worried they would have to quit their jobs in order to care for their small children.
I work as an after-school teacher at an elementary school in the Bronx, where most of the staff has been there for four years or more and where the children return year after year. When my boss, at our End-of-Year Dance and Drama show, announced to parents that we were one of the lucky programs that would survive despite the planned cuts, they lined up immediately to sign their children up. Earlier in the year, we’d been informed that our source of funding had been cut, and we spent the spring unsure of whether we would come back. The day I found out about the cuts, I left my co-worker in the planning room as she cried about the news. I walked out into the hallway and immediately ran into a first-grader, a boy who had been in our program the previous year but wasn’t currently enrolled.