On March 5th, I joined my colleagues on the steps of City Hall to launch the Campaign for Children to protest the mayor’s massive budget cuts to early childhood and after-school programs. I understand that the mayor and the city will have to make difficult choices during the coming budget cycle, but decimating these critical programs for children is the wrong choice.
As the mayor 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. From his efforts to remake the schools to his Young Men’s Initiative to reverse poor outcomes for young people of color, the mayor has consistently demonstrated his commitment to New York City’s children.
That is why the mayor’s proposed cuts to early childhood education and after-school programs are so jarring. We all understand how important it is to keep kids engaged and on track beginning at a very early age. 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.
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 more than 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. I am not aware of any other program that has been forced to absorb cuts at that scale.
The proposed 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. We’re talking about real lives lost here: consider Chastity, 17, a Children’s Aid Society student who is now a successful high school student in the Bronx. Growing up facing homelessness, she cites her after-school program as a “shoulder to lean on” with open doors. With literally nowhere else to go, it was a safe place for her to do her homework. Those doors are slamming on children all over the city.
Or consider parents such as Lilibet, raising two sons, working full-time and living paycheck to paycheck. For her, these programs mean the difference between going to work and supporting her family or staying home and relying on public benefits. She’s able to keep her job only because she knows that her children have a safe place to go after school. Every New York City parent understands how expensive child care is. As we continue to struggle through an economic recovery that has yet to reach many New Yorkers, we can ill-afford to remove such a basic lifeline.
Even in difficult financial times, we shouldn’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Safe, reliable and affordable early childhood and after-school programs are critical to our current and future economy. 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 study by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids New York found the majority of juvenile crime occurs between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. After-school programs not only help children succeed in school, but they also keep them off of the streets.
As a long-time provider of early childhood and after-school programs, I can tell you that vital services to vulnerable children have been cut to the bone. Further reductions will devastate the very children who the mayor has championed in both his philanthropy and public service. The mayor has — bravely and correctly — asked us to judge his success by the success of our children. We should all urge him to keep his promise to our city by investing in the next generation of New Yorkers — now more than ever.
Richard Buery is the President and CEO of the Children’s Aid Society.
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