BY LYNN EDMONDS
Children overflowed the steps of the Parsons Community School in Kew Gardens Hills on Monday to protest cuts to funding for summer programming in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget.
The students held signs with slogans like “bring back the sun for kids,” and “save our summer camp,” accompanied by drawings of waves, sun and puffy clouds. They chanted, “save our summer!” enthusiastically when prompted by Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), who organized the protest.
“Education and getting our kids ready for the future is a lot more than just 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday, September through June,” Lancman said.
Middle School students like Nyla, treasurer of the Parson’s Youth Council, spoke in favor of the camp too.
“Instead of wasting the days of summer vacation away, [students] could be able to do fun things, like dance, arts and crafts, video games, board games and sports,” she said.
If the cuts go through, 31,000 middle schoolers across the city could lose their slot at summer camp, Lancman said.
Affected programs range the gamut from facilitating STEM learning to literacy, leadership, college prep, mentoring, sports and the arts.
Many education advocates argue that it’s vital to keep students physically and academically active during the summer. Studies have shown that children can lose up to two grade levels during the summer months, and those at risk of obesity tend to gain more weight when they are not in school.
Gregory Brender, co-director of policy and advocacy for the Campaign for Children, said his organization found that 20 percent of parents would have to quit their job and 17 percent would have to leave their kids alone if they did not have access to summer childcare provided in part by the camps. The camps programs operate five days a week, 10 hours a day for seven weeks.
Controversy over summer program funding began last year. Some providers and parents reacted with shock and protests because non-profits were awarded city grants for summer programming in March before having their funding unexpectedly rescinded six weeks later.
After some controversy and heated discussions in the city council, de Blasio restored the funding in the executive budget. But he said he was only doing so to avoid creating problems for parents after the grant awards had been sent out in error.
“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,” the Mayor announced in May last year.
De Blasio himself had increased the number of seats for summer programs from 17,000 to 34,000 in 2014, and he had sought to bring the funding back to its original lower level.
He said he wanted to redirect the funding toward low-performing renewal schools instead.
However, Lancman said he was confident that the City Council would block the cuts again this year.
“Now we have what is becoming an annual ritual,” Lancman said. “Kids, parents, they should not be pawns in the Mayor’s annual budget dance.”
But even if the funding is restored again, the uncertainty will take a toll on parents and providers, Oswald Araujo, Director of the Child Center of New York Parsons Beacon Program, said.
Araujo said that after the funding was unexpectedly cut last year, “Parents had to find whatever alternative arrangements they could.”
“It’s very hard for us to put together a quality program on such late notice,” he added.
Ryan Mitchell, a program director for New York Junior Tennis League “Aces Club” at PS 219 said his program was at risk of losing all 80 spots this summer– as they had been last year.
Thought they did get to go forward with the program last year, Mitchell said the last-minute go-ahead resulted in a lower enrollment.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana