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N.Y.C. Restores After-School Funds, Cuts Millions for Summer Programs

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If there's a bible for government budgeting it probably includes the doctrine of "What one hand giveth, the other taketh away." 

On the giveth hand, when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio released his executive budget last week, he restored  $5.9 million to save 17 after-school and summer programs at elementary schools. As we reported here earlier this month, child advocates warned that without the money 1,882 high-need children would lose these services.

The taketh is exponentially bigger. In a turnaround that stunned providers, Mayor de Blasio's new budget deleted as much as $24 million in grants that had already been awarded to community organizations to run summer programs. They were part of the Mayor's highly publicized signature initiative in his preliminary budget to expand after-school programs for middle schoolers.

"We were completely blindsided," said Michelle Yanche, head of government relations at the nonprofit Good Shepherd Services, which will have to cancel 11 of its 28 summer programs in Brooklyn and the Bronx unless funding is restored. 

At least 40 New York City organizations that were gearing up to launch summer programs for 17,000 to 40,000 middle school students, received identical emails last Friday rescinding their funding, just six weeks after the city sent official letters awarding them grants for the programs.

In her 25 years working in this field, Yanche told Education Week she's never seen anything like this. "That [budget promise] is like a gold standard; you would never expect that that would disappear." 

She said they've already begun interviewing and hiring staff for the summer and going through the onerous process of background checks and fingerprinting. Now, with less than two months before summer begins, those people have to find new jobs, and families of the 750 kids shut out are dumbfounded.

"Parents are freaked," said Yanche.  "I've had people calling me incredulously saying, 'What am I supposed to do?'"

Yanche wants to believe that it's all a mistake, perhaps "some kind of accidental bungle" that city officials are scrambling to fix.  But the money is being redirected into services for "high-need students at 130 struggling schools," said Dayana Perez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD), in a written statement.

"This means that DYCD will fund fewer summer enrichment programs," than previously planned, wrote Michael Dogan, assistant commissioner of the department, in last week's email telling program directors that their grants were canceled.  

There are other free summer enrichment activities funded by the city, but middle school can be a developmentally sensitive time for young teens, and the summer programs being cut are tailored to those specific needs, said Katherine Eckstein, the chief of staff at the Children's Aid Society in New York.

Of the 14 programs her organization runs, one in the Bronx and two in Manhattan are impacted, along with 165 middle schoolers and their families. Eckstein is especially concerned about summer learning loss for those kids. The programs mix up traditional summer camp activities with reading and project-based learning.

The providers and advocates have already launched a letter-writing campaign and are holding a call-in today to urge city leaders, Mayor de Blasio, and city council members to restore the funding.  But success depends on speed as much as politics. The city council has until the end of June to approve a budget; summer programs start in July. If it comes down to the wire, said Yanche, "it might not be salvageable."

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