NEW YORK—Three nonprofits with a distinguished track record of helping New York City youth sent an open letter to Albany Wednesday, asking legislators to approve Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to tax the city’s rich.
De Blasio wants to raise the income tax on New York City residents who earn more than $500,000 annually. The mayor estimates that $530 million will be generated in tax revenues every year. He plans to use $340 million of that sum to fund universal prekindergarten and $190 million to expand after-school programs for middle school children.
That tax increase needs to be approved by the state Legislature in Albany, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo has thus far refused to consider it. Cuomo instead proposed his own plan to fund pre-K statewide from the state budget.
In the ensuing political debate over how to pay for pre-K, part of de Blasio’s proposal seems to get lost—the $190 million for after-school programs. Though Cuomo offered de Blasio a blank check to implement pre-K in the city, the governor has not proposed a plan to fund the other part of de Blasio’s proposal.
Good Shepherd Services, one of the organizations, which signed the open letter, provides after-school services to 4,000 children. Many of the children they serve are not in middle schools and thus would not benefit from the mayor’s plan.
Still, there has never been the promise of such a substantial investment in after-school programming, said Michelle Yanche, assistant executive director at Good Shepherd Services.
“We have been struggling, quite frankly, with the instability of funding for after-school programs,” Yanche said.
After 20 years of work with after-school programs, Yanche said there has not been a single funding source— city, state, or federal—that hasn’t seen a cut.
And that doesn’t account for the fact that such organizations rally year after year to prevent further cuts.
Meanwhile, demand is plentiful, as after-school programs are often the only choice for low-income parents to keep their children off the streets. According to Yanche, there is a line of schools and parents on a waiting list for their services.
The city has over 170,000 children in public middle schools, according to the Department of Education. A typical Good Shepherd middle school program for 120 children would cost $360,000 a year, according to Yanche. Using that number, $190 million would provide after-school for over 63,000 children, which represents over 37 percent of the total middle school population.
Both de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have emphasized the importance of middle schools, but neither has played this card against Cuomo.
The reason may be that middle schools don’t carry such strong political appeal, according to David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law, and policy at Brooklyn College.
“Cuomo is in a defensive position and he’s playing defense very well,” Bloomfield said. “He picked up on the main aspect of the de Blasio proposal–everybody calls it pre-K.”