350 children hold walkout at Henry Street Settlement
Children and community members protest budget cuts to after-school programs It's not often children have as much to lose in a political fight as their parents. But for the children of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, this rally was an important one. On Wednesday, May 10, at 4 p.m., more than 350 students in the Henry Street Settlement's after-school programs staged a walkout and gathered at Sol Lain Park in the Lower East Side. The children, clad in personally designed T-shirts and carrying handmade signs, shouted, "If we're not in our seats, we're in the streets!" The walkout was one of a number of protests over the past few weeks, including a walkout by the children of P.S. 137 and P.S. 124. These demonstrations were in response to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed budget cuts to after-school and early childhood programs, according to Susan LaRosa, the director of marketing and communications for the Henry Street Settlement. (By Courtney Holbrook for Our Town Downtown.) "The cuts to after-school programs in Chinatown and the Lower East Side are extremely alarming," said City Council Member Margaret Chin in a prepared statement. "For thousands of parents, these programs are the only way they can make a living and ensure that their children are safe in the afternoon hours. Parents in Chinatown and the Lower East Side cannot afford to lose these programs, and the community cannot afford to send our children out into the streets." According to Kelly Magee, director of communications in Chin's office, the cuts proposed by Bloomberg would eliminate 70 percent of after-school programs in District 1. Magee noted these cuts are "the worst we've seen in a while. We've already lost 61 percent of our day care and early learners' programs since 2009. Cutting back more is just debilitating to the community." For residents of the Lower East Side and Chinatown, these cuts take away numerous programs on which parents have come to rely. Should Bloomberg's budget cuts pass successfully, seven schools in District 1 will lose all programs for all 2012. These programs include P.S. 2 Meyer London, P.S. 20 Anna Silver, P.S. 124 Yung Wing, P.S. 142 Amalia Castro, P.S. 137 John Bernstein, P.S./I.S. 140 The Nathan Straus Prep and the Collaborative Academy of Science, Technology & Language-Arts Education (M345). Cuts on such a scale can leave working parents with few options for child care after school. According to Magee, the community has reacted with "an outpouring of anger?we're seeing parents mobilizing, because these cuts have a direct impact on their lives." The cuts were initiated in response to budget cuts at the state level, according to Magee. Thanks to the recession, New York State government is cutting back on its public services. Magee noted, however, the problem is deeper than what can be blamed on the recession-it lies in the way in which government allocates funds and selects specific districts for cuts. "The process for awarding programs funding is community-based," Magee said. "Youth and community organizations submit proposals for program contracts. The city is required to go with the lowest bidder, so our programs were coming in underfunded to begin with." Furthermore, the city determines which districts receive funds by determining the median income of individual ZIP code blocks. In an area like the Lower East Side, certain wealthy neighborhoods change the priority level of the district as a whole. District 1 was deemed a non-priority level district. Magee said the city government must change its methodology. Those who allocate funds must "look at the median income of individual families, not the overall demographic?otherwise, everyone else who may not live in the wealthier area of town gets left behind." In the coming weeks, children and parents of the Lower East Side and Chinatown will continue to participate in rallies and protests around the city. The community hopes that, through negotiation, the City Council will be able to return a certain amount of money to after-school programs. However, Magee fears this will not be enough. "If City Council restores the programs, that's great, but we will be operating on the barest minimum of funds," Magee said. "There is a pattern in our mayor's administration of abandoning city services, but this city needs available day care and high-quality after-school programs."
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