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Elected officials target early childhood programs for rescue

Hundreds of parents, children, and day care workers protested proposed cuts to early childhood programs today at City Hall. (GothamSchools’ Flickr) With the deadline for next year’s city budget looming, elected officials are eyeing early-childhood centers slated to be cut under Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed budget as a key reduction to reverse. More than a dozen officials, including two mayoral candidates and three out of five borough presidents, decried the possible cuts today at a City Hall rally alongside hundreds of parents and workers associated with the centers.

The proposal would cut the budgets of early-childhood programs and replace kindergarten programs currently operated outside of the school system with Department of Education kindergarten classes. The city says that moving the kindergartens is necessary in order to save the Administration for Children’s Services $15 million.

But parents today said that the current programs cover the burden of child-care in a way that schools, which end at 3 p.m. and are shuttered on holidays, cannot. The programs at risk of being shut are operated out of ACS, the city’s social services arm for children, as part of larger daycare operations. Head Start, the early childhood program, is also slated to see its budget slashed by 3 percent.

Desiree Jean-Mary said she is upset that her son, Joshua, who attends a Head Start program in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, might not be able to continue there next year when he enters kindergarten. Right now, Jean-Mary, who has two other children, picks Joshua up at 5 p.m. after her job as a home health aide is over for the day. “It would be really hard if I had to find somewhere else for him to go — I don’t want that,” she said.

Other parents said that they worry that programs for younger children will be forced to extend for a shorter period of time, forcing them to find alternate child care that would last through the end of their work days.

Elected officials used the rally, which was organized by the AFSCME public-employees union, which represents ACS workers, to criticize Bloomberg. “If you keep getting on our last nerve, we’re going to turn Gracie Mansion into a daycare,” Councilman Charles Barron, a staunch Bloomberg antagonist, said as the crowd cheered.

Tony Avella, a council member who is running for mayor, made a plug for his campaign while condemning the childcare cuts: “In a Tony Avella administration you won’t have this problem,” he said. Thompson, who’s also running, was more subtle. “The mayor is putting money before children,” he said, echoing a theme of the rally.

“We can’t balance the budget on your backs,” the council’s finance committee chair David Weprin said to the crowd.

There is some argument about exactly how much money the plan will save the city. The New York Daily News reported that moving the kindergarten programs would actually cost taxpayers an extra $7 million as the cost of education would simply shift to other agencies, not disappear. School officials are disputing that. In order to absorb the new students, the Department of Education said it will need to lift a limit on kindergarten class sizes to 25 from 20.5 to accommodate extra students.

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