Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to double the number of middle school students in after-school programs could, city officials said, result in better academic results and peace of mind for working parents – but state leaders, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are not backing the mayor’s proposal to pay for the expansion by raising taxes.
On Monday, de Blasio and members of his administration unveiled a plan to increase the number of after-school programs from 239 spots to 512 in an effort to ensure “every middle school has a safe place to learn and develop” in the hours after class is dismissed, according to a release from the city.
The move to provide more than 95,000 spots in the 512 schools is part of de Blasio’s larger educational initiative that also includes offering universal pre-kindergarten to all 4-year-olds in the five boroughs.
City officials stressed that after-school programs cover a range of enrichment activities, from literacy and the arts to homework help and dance or martial arts, among other sports. Additionally, educational leaders have long said keeping students busy during 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. – the hours after school lets out but often before parents return from work – deters crime and helps to give students an academic boost.
“We are putting forward programs that will be game changers for kids,” de Blasio said in a prepared statement. “I’ve seen with my own children what finding a passion in art or science can mean to someone at that age. This is a critical investment that will transform our schools – but it is also a powerful policy to keep kids out of trouble and fight the influence that can take them off the right path.”
The after-school program would cost the city about $190 million – which de Blasio wants to secure by raising taxes on New Yorkers making $500,000 or more annually. However, for the city to be able to do that, it would need to get the blessing of Albany, and state lawmakers would have to authorize the city to increase the local income tax .
While Cuomo has backed de Blasio’s ideas to expand both pre-kindergarten and after-school programs, he has not thrown his support behind raising taxes to pay for the proposals and has instead said state funds should be used.
Other members of de Blasio’s administration, including schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, urged the state to back the mayor’s plan.
“Middle school is a pivotal moment for student development, when children discover their interests, explore their passions, and grow intellectually,” she said in a statement. “Expanding after-school programs not only reinforces classroom learning for middle schools, but also creates life-changing opportunities.”
Deborah Dillingham, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s appointee to the city Panel for Educational Policy, too threw her support behind the city’s proposal.
“I am delighted to hear that there will be an expansion of after-school programming,” said Dillingham, who has three children at city public schools. “There are so many wonderful supports and programs that can be offered. After-school programs not only help students learn, but also give them more reasons to want to go to school and stay at school. After-school programs help students build a sense of community. These programs help families. Whether a student is in elementary, middle, or high school, after-school programming should be an essential component of all schools.”
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the former Queens borough president’s appointee on the city Panel for Educational Policy and a Middle Village parent, also praised de Blasio’s after-school proposal.
“The middle school years are an important time in a student’s life, when they have a tendency to make some bad decisions because they’re given more flexibility in their daily schedules,” Fedkowskyj said. “This funded after-school option will provide a positive outlet and a wonderful opportunity to improve on their school work while they build on positive goals.”
By Anna Gustafson