It's Not Just Pre-K

It's Not Just Pre-K

March 8, 2014

great deal of the coverage of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s universal pre-K proposal has focused on how the city will implement the vast expansion of pre-K programs—from finding adequate space to training quality teachers. Another key component of the proposal has received far less attention, however: after-school programs, which UPKNYC (the mayor’s moniker for the plan) omits. De Blasio may have eschewed a snappy acronym for his after-school initiative, but the white paper report he released on the subject provides insight into his perspective. 

We took the opportunity to fact-check key excerpts of the document. 

“The proposed plan will provide $190,000,000 in new funding for school year after-school services. The school year expansion will place programs in all public schools serving the middle grades that have no after-school services at the present time, as well as in additional non-public school sites like community centers and libraries.” 

The $190 million allocated for the program is contingent on the mayor’s ability to convince the state Legislature and the governor to allow New York City the ability to impose an income tax surcharge on city residents who make over $500,000. The tax would yield the $540 million necessary to fund the pre-K and after-school programs. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has countered with a plan that would provide universal preschool for the whole state at a cost of $1.5 billion, which could mean that de Blasio would not be able to implement the universal preschool and after-school programs to the extent that he wants. Despite Cuomo’s reluctance to raise taxes during an election year—even solely in New York City—de Blasio has remained firm in pushing for the increase. De Blasio recently attended a rally for universal pre-K, and after met with Cuomo for two hours, where presumably the pre-K and after-school issue came up. 

“The city has also gained experience from the array of other after-school programs now operating in public schools, such as Beacon Community Center programs and 21st Century Learning Centers.” 

The Beacon Community Centers were born out of former mayor David Dinkins’ “Safe Streets, Safe City” program, which, like de Blasio’s push for universal preschool, required the mayor and then City Council Speaker Peter Vallone to convince the Legislature to allow them to apply a surcharge to the personal income tax. The surcharge expired after seven years, after which the city funded the centers through the budget, similar to de Blasio’s proposal that the surcharge on high-income earners would sunset after five years. Originally the plan involved asking the state for funding solely to hire more police officers. Dinkins was adamant that a youth initiative be coupled with hiring more police officers, in order to give children an outlet to keep them off the streets, which led to the creation of the Beacon Centers. 

“A recent review by Child Trends concluded that after-school programs are more effective at helping middle school students attain precursor outcomes than academic achievement outcomes. Precursor outcomes include increased attendance at school, higher rates of homework completion, reduced incidents of disruptive behavior, and improved study habits. These outcomes generally precede the attainment of academic achievement outcomes like higher grade point averages, higher standardized test scores, and the acquisition of knowledge and skills required to succeed in college. Increasingly, leaders in education and after-school are collaborating to integrate their resources and best practices to intentionally focus activities on academic skill-building goals.” 

In making the case for universal preschool, the mayor has repeatedly cited the “decades of research” substantiating that early childhood education makes a fundamental difference in improving student outcomes later in life. The mayor’s white paper report did not include such research to help make the case, however, perhaps an indication of a higher level of confidence in the demonstrable efficacy of preschool than in the advantages of after-school. 

“Staff costs are the primary driver of overall program costs, and [Department of Youth and Community Development’s] evaluations of the current [Out-of- School Time] system underscore the relationship between program quality and staff credentials, as well as the importance of dedicating time to program planning and analysis during non-program hours. At $3,000 per program slot, more programs will be allowed to hire certified teachers to serve as educational specialists and to retain more highly educated and experienced activity specialists—such as professional artists and graduate students in science—who can be paired with youth workers to offer engaging, project-based learning activities.” 

The uncertainty surrounding the outcome of contract negotiations between the city and the municipal unions could have a major impact on the cost of not only the after-school program but the universal preschool program as a whole, specifically with regard to teacher pay. The “high quality” certified teachers de Blasio wants to attract could receive significant raises, not only retroactively for the previous bargaining round—when they were left without a contract—but for the current bargaining round as well. Hiring more certified teachers for OST offerings could also provide a backdoor way for the city to increase teacher pay. 

“The enhanced model will increase the annual price per program slot to bring more equity to the current system in which large organizations contribute private funds to support higher quality programming, while small organizations rely solely on city funding and struggle to meet program standards; connect payment to contractor performance; bring more school resources to the after-school programs; and actively target struggling students.” 

The description of the enhanced after-school program is modeled after the expanded learning opportunity programs (ExpandedED) offered by the After-School Corporation—a nonprofit based in the city. The program requires collaboration between schools and nonprofit providers to align after-school programs with school-day instruction to create a “seamless” day for a student. A 2013 study conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Policy Studies Associates looked at the implementation of the expanded learning programs across the country, including at five schools in New York City. The report states that ExpandedED builds on existing relationships with community partner (or community-based) organizations in providing youth programming, but that it was a challenge for some of the CBOs to shift the perception of their organization from after-school providers to partners in wide-ranging school reform. The study also found that having a strong principal to take ownership of the initiative was difficult, noting that none of the school system representatives interviewed played a strong role in the program’s implementation. Additionally, the study found that encouraging parents to embrace an integrated, expanded school day was a challenge in nearly every school that was evaluated. 

While clearly the result of a small sample size, with only 10 schools surveyed, the findings of the report illustrate the challenges de Blasio faces in reforming how after-school activities are delivered, particularly in such a short period of time. The mayor has said the first of the expanded slots will be available by the next school year in September. 

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Nick Powell