Many yeshivos that applied for New York City’s new universal full-day pre-kindergarten program received denial letters over the weekend, leading to speculation among some administrators that the standards are simply too high a bar for religious institutions to climb.
Out of the nearly dozen yeshivos contacted by Hamodia, only one said they were approved. An administrator who said he saw a list of rejected yeshivos said the number was closer to 20, including most of Boro Park’s yeshivos and girls schools.
“Dear ___ at Yeshiva _____,” begins a typical letter that one administrator received on Shabbos, which was forwarded to Hamodia. “Thank you for your recent application to open a Pre-K through the NYC Department of Education. We regret to inform you that your application … has not been awarded. The reason for yournon-award: Failed Quality Threshold.”
One yeshivah administrator who got a rejection letter after running a successful half-day program for the past five years said that there seemed to be no reason for the refusal.
“Basically, they made a joke out of us,” the administrator said, asking for anonymity since he planned on reapplying. “We got about 15 emails to apply for UPK saying that the mayor wants to make UPK available for everyone. We hired a grant writer, spent thousands of dollars, hired a professional teacher with a degree to run the program.”
“There is no reason we shouldn’t be an accepted site,” he said.
Another administrator wondered how the city “had the audacity” to tell schools to apply.
“They assured schools they will work out any issues,” he said. “We all spent time and money to apply for this RFP in the small window given to us. They are not giving any clear reason as to why they are denying the award. We feel violated and fooled.”
But Devora Kaye, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, told Hamodia in an email that the rate of denials to yeshivos is roughly the same as in the broader school system.
“Dozens of organizations with religious affiliations have been awarded contracts for full day pre-K,” Kaye said. “Roughly half that applied were awarded, and this is similar to our overall rate for community-based partners across the city. Those decisions were based on our rigorous standards that ensure this is one singular system with one standard of excellence.”
Even some of the institutions who were already running half-day programs until now were denied since the city upped the standards when they set up the new pre-K system.
The denial for most came after the preliminary RFP (request for proposal) process. That is supposed to be followed by a visit by education officials, before the yeshivah is invited to an interview to discuss technicalities.
Hamodia has learned that out of the more than 80 yeshivos who applied since the latest round of applications in the beginning of May, nearly 50 were approved. Furthermore, the denials that were sent out are not final; some yeshivos will be given a chance to reapply for a re-scoring.
Yeshivos who received denial notices should be in touch with the Department of Education.
A signature campaign issue for Mayor Bill de Blasio, free pre-K was granted by the state with a $300 million allocation — provided he could fill 53,000 slots this upcoming school year and 73,000 for the 2016 year. The mayor is trying to reach that goal by specifying what religious institutions may or may not do.
For example, mezuzos are permitted but not a shelf of sefarim. The biggest issues for yeshivos — a mandatory 180-day school year and 6 and a half hours of instruction, including on Fridays — were the biggest hurdle. De Blasio has given conflicting statements on how he plans to reconcile them.
The city’s Orthodox population has about 8,000 children eligible for pre-K — a big chunk of the applicants needed for the administration to reach its target.