De Blasio Fleshes Out After-School Program Expansion

NEW YORK -

A day before heading for Albany for a critical lobbying effort for his education proposals, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday released details of his plan to dramatically expand the city’s afterschool program for middle school students to every district school that doesn’t currently have them.

“For kids who need that help, who need that enrichment, it’s going to be there for them guaranteed for the first time ever,” de Blasio said at a press conference Monday morning. “And we know that for tens of thousands of children and their families, it will be a game-changer in their lives.”

While de Blasio’s proposed expansion of universal prekindergarten has grabbed the lion’s share of attention, a third of the money raised for his education ideas, or $190 million a year, would go to afterschool programs. Yeshivah and Orthodox girls schools, as well as charter schools, are also eligible under the initiative.

De Blasio said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal Sunday that the city needs to do a “major reset” with its public school system, starting with universal pre-k and continuing on to middle school.

“The afterschool piece is crucial because it is a substantial reinforcement of the progress that we hope to make with early-childhood education, and it allows us to expand the school day in a way that’s very affordable,” he said.

According to a report released Monday, the city currently has 45,095 afterschool slots serving 56,369 students in 239 schools. (Some students don’t attend every day so one slot can serve more than one student.) There are 273 schools without them.

The expanded program would more than double to about 95,000 slots and reach nearly 120,000 students. With the proposed expansion, more than 50 percent of students in grades 6-8 are expected to be enrolled in the free programs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The afterschool budget would be dramatically bumped up from the current $77 million to $190 million. De Blasio has proposed paying for after-school and pre-k programs with a tax on New Yorkers who earn more than $500,000.

That has embroiled him in conflict with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is not eager to allow a tax increase in an election year. He has instead offered to pay whatever is needed out of an expected state budget surplus.

De Blasio will lead on Tuesday a delegation of city council leaders and other education activists to Albany to lobby for permission to raise taxes.

While two of the three state legislative leaders support de Blasio — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, and Senate co-leader Jeffrey Klein (IDC-Bronx) — Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), the other Senate co-leader, said he would not allow it to go forward.

Still, Silver and Klein have indicated they would not hold up the budget, due at the end of the month, on account of the New York City tax hike.

The afterschool program is designed to give school administrators a good deal of say over how they are run. They would be largely administered by community-based organizations, who would be required to have an agreement with each school’s principal.

De Blasio has been a fierce defender of priorities 5 and 7 of the program, which have primarily benefited yeshivah students, when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg threatened to cut them on multiple occasions. Priority 7 was eventually slashed from the budget in 2010.

During his mayoral primary campaign, de Blasio promised to restore the cuts.