POLITICO: De Blasio defends cuts to summer programs, but advocates express ‘outrage’

By Eliza Shapiro

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday his administration will not fund after school-affiliated summer programs in this year’s preliminary budget, following a controversy over cuts to those programs last year.

“We just don’t think we can afford it at this point,” de Blasio said during his budget presentation at City Hall.

De Blasio has made expanding after school programs for middle school students during the academic one of his top education priorities, but made clear Thursday he does not believe his initiative extends to affiliated summer programs.

“I believe fundamentally in after school, but the thing that I committed to in the long term is after school during the school year for middle schoolers,” he said. “That is effectively a guaranteed right now in New York City.”

The mayor said the academic year programs are where “the most important impact can be made.”

De Blasio drew criticism from some of his education allies last spring when he omitted $20 million for 34,000 summer program slots shortly before the programs were set to begin. Critics questioned how his after school initiative could exclude summer programs and organized several large rallies on the steps of City Hall.

After public pressure and criticism from the City Council, de Blasio admitted his administration had “screwed up” by cutting funding so close to the beginning of the summer and restored the money in late May.

But with months of advance notice, de Blasio said, this year is different.

“This time, in the cool light of day, we’re saying ‘nope,’ we’re not going to fund that,” he said. “People should not assume it’s coming.” He indicated the funding could be on the table for the executive budget in the spring, but said his administration would “cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Advocates seem to disagree, and indicated that they will make summer programs another central focus of this year’s budget negotiations.

“We are outraged that the administration has proposed cutting 34,000 summer program slots,” the Campaign for Children, a coalition of afterschool and summer school providers and advocates, said in a statement. “Without these programs, students lose out on too much — about two months of grade level equivalency in math and reading skills, and the chance to access free, nutritious meals. We will be advocating for the restoration of funding in time for high-quality programs to be there for NYC’s children this summer.”

De Blasio was also criticized  by childhood hunger advocates, who said his preliminary budget did not expand universal free lunch for city students. Public Advocate Letitia James has made universal free lunch a top priority for several years, though de Blasio said in the spring the program has had “mixed results” and does not yet merit an expansion.

“There is simply no excuse for any child to go hungry in our schools,” James said in a statement on Thursday.

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