Saturday, May 31, 2008

Keeping NYC Kids Needs in the Budget

Families, nonprofits, unions, and NY City Council members converged on City Hall’s steps, on May 28, 2008, in a show of solidarity for quality and adequately funded programs for New York’s kids—from crib to the high school prom. In the face of a “4.2 billion city budget surplus,” these advocates are amazed that Mayor Bloomberg intends to drastically cut money for child care centers, public schools, Beacons, afterschool programs, the Summer Youth Employment Program and Runaway and Homeless Youth Shelters. Cries of “Keep the Promises,” “Joe Klein Must Go,” and “No Cuts, No Cuts” rang in the air. Being more than a ‘photo opp’, leaders asserted the balance of power between the people, the City Council and the Mayor. Councilmember Lew Fidler, Youth Services Committee Chair, said, “The City Council will be dragging Mayor Bloomberg, kicking and screaming, to pass a budget that covers our young people.” Councilmembers Charles Barron, John Liu and Finance Committee Chair David Weprin declared, at different points, “The Mayor must be reminded that the Council passes the budget.”

The show of unity consisted of three press conferences. District Council 1707, AFSCME co-sponsored with Councilmembers Bill deBlasio, Diana Reyna and Letitia James the first one, at 11 AM, to stop child care defunding and further center closings by the Administration for Children’s Services. DC 1707 Executive Director Raglan George, Jr. presented highlights of the draft “The Better Way Alternative to ACS Child Care Funding Formula.” The “Better Way” includes continued full coverage of centers’ fixed costs, restoring the number of eligibility workers in ACS resource areas, reinstatement of “BIG MAC,” a citywide enrollment campaign, and keeping children in centers for the full year when parents’ pay raises bring household incomes over the income ceiling. General Welfare Committee Chair Bill deBlasio promoted Resolution No. 1415, a resolution that requires ACS to set tangible goals for the Full Enrollment Initiative. Councilmembers Reyna and James went a step further by introducing Resolution No. 1420, which calls upon the Bloomberg Administration to place a moratorium on the implementation of ACS’s “unproven” Project Full Enrollment Initiative. Educational Director for Stagg Street DCC and head of the Professional Association of Day Care Providers Larry Provete was one of many workers and families representing the interests of working families.

The New York City Youth Alliance, an umbrella organization for such groups as The After School Corporation, The New York Immigration Coalition, YMCA of Greater New York and Human Services Council of New York City, took over the steps, by noon, to decry the lack of support for older children. NYC Coalition for Educational Justice’s Ernesto Maldonado echoed the frequent observation of the Bloomberg Administration’s $1 billion funding of Yankee Stadium’s renovation yet, cutting $38.15 million in such youth and family programs as SYEP, Adult Literacy and Beacons. Directions for Our Youth’s Cary Goodman explained that “An average of 22,000 pupils drop out of public schools yearly yet, the money for drop out intervention is cut.” The Youth Alliance continues its daily vigil at City Hall during budget negotiations for fiscal year 2009. The United Federation of Teachers and Keep the Promise Coalition held the third press conference. UFT President Randi Weingarten stamped her feet as she derided Chancellor Joel Klein’s “ Robin Hood divide and conquer mentality.” She, along with Councilmember John Liu, urged advocates not to give into distinctions between high performing and challenged schools, low- to moderate-income neighborhoods and affluent ones or division by color. Rather, the City Council must vow to vote no for city cuts to public education and restore $428 million to the Department of Education’s budget. Each councilmember, then, came to the podium to make the vow.

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