WNYC: City Hall Responds to Protests, Restores Summer Program Funding
Thursday, May 28, 2015 – 07:17 PM
By Beth Fertig
After fierce criticism from City Council members, families and community groups, the De Blasio administration said on Thursday that it would maintain a summer art, music and science program for middle school students for one more year.
The city changed course on its plan to redirect more than $27 million from the summer classes to its Renewal program for struggling schools after a rally was held outside City Hall during an education budget hearing. At least 30 Council members also signed a letter to the mayor voicing their opposition.
“After hearing from parents and kids, we’re pleased to announce that the administration will fund the full 34,000 middle school seats for this upcoming summer, for this year only — so that families and providers are not left hanging,” said Amy Spitalnick, a mayoral spokeswoman.
During the budget hearing, Julissa Ferreras, the chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said the cut was creating “havoc” for many families who were counting on the summer enrichment classes.
“There’s letters that are going out, letters that went out, that said you have a seat and now there’s letters that have gone out that you don’t have a seat,” she told Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “We are not happy.”
“We hear that,” replied Ray Orlando, the Department of Education’s chief financial officer, who sat next to Fariña.
The coalition Campaign for Children fought to restore the money after providers who were told in March their summer program funding was guaranteed only to be notified this month that it was no longer there, leaving families and staff members in a lurch.
“We thank the mayor for fully restoring funding for summer programs, and for acting quickly on this critical issue,” according to a campaign statement. “Children, parents, and providers are breathing a sigh of relief tonight and look forward to a wonderful, enriching summer.”
City Council members used Thursday’s hearing to press the chancellor on a few other budget matters. One concern was how to make free breakfasts available to more students, including allowing them to eat in the classroom.
“We live in a city where one in four kids struggles with hunger and we’re near last place nationally for feeding kids breakfast,” said Council member Ben Kallos of Manhattan, noting that other cities were able to serve breakfast to almost all their students by allowing them to eat in class.
Fariña said she was concerned about cleaning up after the students and taking time away from instruction but said she was open to the possibility.
Council members also urged the city to expand free lunch to all students; the administration currently provides universal free lunch in a few hundred middle schools.
The three-hour council hearing was one last chance for members to grill officials before budget negotiations heat up in earnest. Several members complained about a lack of sports programs for small schools. They said the city hasn’t done enough with the $825,000 they set aside last year.
Fariña said she was committed to adding sports programs to more under-served schools as well as and to creating more girls’ teams. (This year the city was found in violation of Title IX by not providing enough sports opportunities for girls).
She also revealed that she had asked her athletic director to create soccer teams for each borough, noting that it’s a sport many immigrant students have in common, a fact documented in our story about recent arrivals from Yemen.