The nation’s largest citywide afterschool system is on the chopping block. If Mayor Bloomberg’s budget is approved, 25,000 children will lose their spots in the afterschool programs that are keeping kids safe, inspiring them to learn, and helping working families. The entire system will be cut to half its size. Just a few years ago, NY was named one of the Top Ten States for Afterschool (in fact it rated in the top three) due in no small part to NYC’s extraordinary investment and leadership on afterschool. In 2009 the city supported programs serving 85,000 kids. The funding level proposed for 2012 will serve just 27,000.
As afterschool programs around the city received word that they would not have funds for 2012-2013, parents, schools and community groups began to realize that entire neighborhoods will be devastated by the cuts. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, provides a pretty good—or tragic, actually—view into what is happening all across the city. Funding for almost all of the programs serving kids at area elementary and middle schools has been eliminated. Parents are shocked, worried and upset. On average these schools have a poverty rate well above 70%, with some as high as 90%, and serve a significant number of immigrant families and English language learners. Among those cut is I.S. 318’s afterschool program, home to the nation’s most winning middle school chess team (their amazing story is chronicled in the new documentary Brooklyn Castle). In April, Mayor Bloomberg brought the team to City Hall to personally congratulate the students for winning the national high school chess championship. They are the first middle school to ever do so. Two weeks later, the program was told their funding had been eliminated.
Thankfully, NYC advocates, programs, parents and youth are making their voices heard. Child care and afterschool organizations have banned together to wage a joint campaign against the cuts, organizing rallies, press coverage and letters to the editor. Local sites are organizing their own events and letter writing campaigns, and sharing photos, stories and videos about the importance of their programs. On Facebook, students, staff and alums are posting responses to “YES! I was in a NYC afterschool program and I love it because…”
The outcry against cutting afterschool programs has been phenomenal. But whether it will be enough to save the programs so many rely on remains to be seen.