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February 11, 2015
Over 1.7 million children live in New York City, the largest child population in the country. A staggering one-third of these children live in poverty and more than two-thirds read below grade level. Their parents struggle to make ends meet, often working multiple low-wage jobs that make it difficult to pay rent, feed their families, and find affordable child care or after-school programs.
The administration has made notable progress in providing these children and their parents with resources to support their educational development and lift them out of poverty by expanding pre-kindergarten and middle school after-school programs. But the long-term success of these initiatives hinges on the strength of the early education and after-school systems overall.
To ensure the continued success of these initiatives and continue moving forward as a city, the upcoming budget must make investments that bring stability, support quality and increase capacity across both the early childhood education and after-school systems.
The benefits of pre-K for four-year-olds are tremendous and well-known here in New York – but we also know that it’s crucial to begin educating children even earlier. Children ages zero to three who have access to high-quality early education programs benefit from development of academic, emotional and social skills that are critical for future school preparedness and success. Data also show that a child with access to early education beginning in infancy has better chances of graduating high school and going on to college, which in turn leads to better job prospects and higher incomes.
After-school services also help take children and parents out of the cycle of poverty. These programs provide extra academic support, help children develop positive role-models and build confidence. They ensure parents can continue working while having the peace of mind that their children are in a safe place exploring new interests, and not hanging out in the streets. While the Mayor has wisely invested in an expansion of these programs for middle school students, elementary school children and high school youth are similarly in need of safe, educational places to go after school and in the summer.
Elected officials now have the opportunity to use the city budget to build on the success of universal pre-K and the middle school after-school expansion, and clearly state their priorities for strengthening these systems as a whole and reaching greater numbers of children.
In the early childhood education system, the city should expand capacity for 0-3 year-olds, ensure that the workforce is adequately compensated, reduce the parent fee, and ensure 8-10 hours of education programming for pre-kindergarten children. In the after-school system, the city should maintain the existing elementary school slots, including summer slots, and increase capacity for elementary and high-school programs.
By taking these steps, we can help close the inequality gap that exists for children across the city. Far too often, the life outcomes of a child growing up on the upper east side of Manhattan are worlds apart from a child growing up in the south Bronx. According to our new Community Risk Ranking, only one-third (34.3%) of elementary and middle school students in Hunts Point passed State reading and math tests in the 2012 school year and fewer than one-third (32.9%) of public high school students in Hunts Point graduated on time. Access to high quality services can help give the city’s most vulnerable children a stronger foundation and increase their odds of breaking the cycle of poverty.
With the expansion of pre-kindergarten and after-school, we’ve proven just how powerful we can be when New Yorkers band together to bring about important changes for children. Our work is not complete. As we prepare to begin the annual budget process, we must make sure that the mayor and the City Council take action to strengthen and expand our city’s early education and after-school services and make sure that we are providing every child with the opportunity to succeed.