Jewish Groups Meet de Blasio On Yeshivah Pre-k

NEW YORK -

A wide consortium of yeshivah administrators and Jewish advocacy groups met with de Blasio administration officials on Friday to discuss yeshivah applications for the newly inducted universal prekindergarten program — a meeting capped off with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s unscheduled presence in the middle.

At the meeting in City Hall, de Blasio asked yeshivos to encourage parents to sign up for his signature campaign issue, for which he won a hard-fought battle with Albany last month.

Yeshivos had initially wanted to join the pre-k program just for a half day, to allow for religious studies during the other half. However, at a previous closed-press meeting in February, a program was initiated by the de Blasio administration to encourage yeshivos to sign up for the full- day pre-k.

The meeting Friday was designed for the administration to see how they can resolve all the challenges confronting yeshivos in joining the full day pre-k.

“You will be shocked at how many parents will want to join such a program,” Deputy Mayor Richard Buery told the assembled, according to a source who was present.

Schools that participate in the full-day program — which is six hours and 20 minutes, or from 9:00 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. — will receive $10,000 per child. Chief among the difficulties is how to have religious education in such a setup.

“Tell me all your challenges,” Buery urged the gathered Jewish groups, which included representatives from Agudath Israel, Satmar, the Orthodox Union and others.

Buery took copious notes and promised to look into mitigating as many of them as possible.

The next step the city wants yeshivos to take is to set up meetings with their parent body and recommend they sign up for the full-day program.

There are about 10,000 eligible students in the yeshivah population, about 15 percent of the overall potential pre-k enrollees in the city.

A Request for Proposals (RFP) for schools and community-based organizations to participate in the full-day program was released later Friday. The deadline for submission of the RFP for the upcoming school year beginning in September is Friday, May 16.

A related issue which concerns yeshivah advocates is the defunct priorities 5 and 7 afterschool childcare vouchers. Priority 7 vouchers, which helped large families with only one working parent, was eliminated in 2010 by a $16 million cut. Priority 5 vouchers, which were targeted at financially struggling families, have similarly been reduced since then.

As a city councilman representing parts of Boro Park until 2009, de Blasio has been a vocal fighter to keep voucher funding flowing. He promised in an interview with Hamodia before the Democratic mayoral primary last year to restore the money, although he said in an interview with Leon Goldenberg in January that he may have to delay that pledge until the next budget year.

In their budget recommendation released last week, the city council added $15 million for both vouchers. The mayor is set to unveil his budget proposal on Tuesday.

According to a source who spoke to Hamodia, de Blasio will restore funding for Priority 5, but not for Priority 7, which was used much more extensively by Orthodox families. The mayor is expected to say that he is working on restoring both voucher programs for the next budget year.