By Maurice Pinzon
New York State Senator Liz Krueger in a news conference last week charged the State Senate with a partisan restoration of funding for an after school program that was cut from $20 million to $10 million when Albany enacted its budget this year.
Both the State Senate and the Assembly enacted this cut as part of an overall budget they passed over Governor George E. Pataki’s objections. At the time the legislators said their overall budget package was better for New Yorkers than Governor Pataki’s. Kent Kisselbrack, spokesman for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), said, “The Governor proposed funding at $20 million in his budget but the Senate in overriding his budget cut the program in half.”
Senator Krueger indicated the budget the Senate passed and for which she voted was passed “to keep a balanced budget, the State Legislature had to make some cuts.” But she added, “Our budget was far better than the Governor’s original budget and we did restore more than $1 billion to public education initiatives. In the end there was enough money to run the after school programs through March 31st, which is the end of the fiscal year.” Some in Albany dispute whether that would have been possible, since the budget has rarely been passed on time and therefore funding would have run out before more funding could be provided.
When New York State moved forward with the cuts there was little notice, with some programs completely eliminated and others cut deeply. Senator Krueger said “real damage” was done to the programs that were completely eliminated. Nancy Wackstein, Executive Director of the United Neighborhood Houses, said the cuts were carried out with “very little notice to get other funding in place.” She added that in the process, “Children got caught in the political net.”
When the Senate Majority decided to restore some of the funding under a budget line under its control, State Senator Krueger charged that it was done in a highly politicized manner. “The restoration of funding to select after-school programs was motivated with blatantly partisan intentions,” Senator Krueger stated. “How else can one explain that funding streams in the New York City metropolitan area have been renewed for 13 programs in Republican districts and for only one program in Democratic districts?”
According to information provided by Senator Krueger’s office, the OCFS’s program cuts were restored by the Senate Republican Majority in Long Island and Westchester, whereas New York City restored only 3 of 14 programs.
Matt Walter, a spokesperson for the Senate Majority’s office said there was “no foundation” to Senator Krueger’s contention that there was partisanship involved. Mr. Walter said that two-thirds of the cuts to the Advantage After School program came from outside New York City, so that is why most of the funding restorations by the Senate Majority took place outside New York City. But when asked to explain whether the New York City districts where funding had been restored were disproportionately Republican districts, Mr. Walter said he would have to look into it.
As of this posting he has not gotten back to New York News Network.
According to Mr. Kisselbrack, the formula used to cut the Advantage After School program looked for those programs with higher attendance rates and tried to preserve the well-attended programs with some partial funding. Mr. Kisselbrack said the cuts kept 70 percent of the overall youth population enrolled in the after school programs.
Beyond the Albany budget battle are the comments given by one 17-year-old high school senior who participated in the Advantage After School Program and attended the news conference, and Robin Bernstein, Executive Director of the Educational Alliance, an organization that ran an Advantage After School program.
Assiatou Osis Dillo:
“Hello, my name is Assiatou, I’ve been involved with the Educational Alliance since it started five years ago, when I was in the seventh grade. Now I’m in my senior year and in the middle of the application process, all of the extracurricular activities and skills outside of school that I am listing on those applications came from being part of this program. Through this after school I’ve learned how to dance the salsa, debate, photography, stage crew skills, how to work with younger children, office skills, and most recently, I started a young woman’s discussion and support group in the after school program. Through that I learned how to initiate, organize, and run a group. These are all skills that I wouldn’t have learned if the Educational Alliance Program was not in this school. My little sister, Biata, is in the sixth grade at this school, and I want her to have the same opportunities for learning as I had.”
“Our children deserve first-rate schools that teach them to be literate and teach them to be good citizens. Our children need a multitude of skills to participate in a work place that is ever more technological. Our kids need to learn community-building skills to work and live in a diverse, multicultural society. Schools not only have to teach better from 9 to 3, they also must play a bigger role in the lives of the many children whose parents work full time.”
“Parents are just not home during after school hours any more. We don’t have an economy that enables most families to get by on less than two incomes. While our parents support their families, our parents need the assurance that their children will be, first of all, safe, but secondly receiving the educational and social enrichment that they need to reach their potential.”
“Over the past five years many of us have worked together developing an extraordinary model of after school programming. Schools in partnership with community-based organizations and private and public funders have created successful programs to engage, challenge and expand the horizons of our city’s children. We don’t just baby-sit our kids. We have added [to] after school the array of activities that there is not enough time and money to accommodate anymore from 9 to 3: music, theater, art and sports. We give high school students opportunities to volunteer on community projects and work experience tutoring and mentoring younger children. We offer remedial and enriched education, to catch up or jump ahead in their academic growth. Participation in our program results in improved school attendance, which results in improved academic achievement. That has been proven!”
“We have made remarkable progress in meeting a critical need of working families of every race, ethnicity, community and economic level throughout the state. Let’s not abandon these children and their parents when we are not even close to meeting the need for after school care in New York City.”
“The Educational Alliance is currently providing after school programming daily to 300 children and teens at School of the Future, and another 400 children at two other programs affected by these cuts. We have recently been told we have lost 25 percent of our New York State Advantage funding. Unless it is restored soon, we will have to tell 75 young people and their parents at School of the Future and 150 children at our other programs that they can’t take part in the program anymore.”
“Where will these kids go? The only community center near School of the Future closed in the last year. The other options: become latchkey kids, alone in their apartments for too many hours a day. Hanging out on the street where there is real potential for getting into trouble or being preyed upon.”
“The best choice for these children’s futures is to not lose this program. These cuts will force hardworking parents to choose between supporting their families or leaving their children unsupervised. This is a choice no parent should have to make. It is essential that these funds be restored.”