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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Releases Implementation Plan for Dramatic Expansion of After-School Programs to Reach Every Middle Schooler

March 3, 2014

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CONTACT:, (212) 788-2958

Mayor: Thank you. All right, we will now turn to our next topic. Let’s get a – as they say in football, we’re going to get a new personnel package in here. I’m joined by Deputy Mayor Richard Buery. This is his first full day on the job, welcome aboard.

Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, Strategic Policy Initiatives: Thank you.

Mayor: It’s not a job, it’s an adventure.


Mayor: So shifting gears now, let’s talk about the work we’ve been doing to explain the details of our plan for the future of our schools. So last month, we released our roadmap for implementing free, high-quality full-day pre-K for every child in this city over the next two school years. That plan will reach 73,000 children per year when it reaches its maximum within two school years. Today we’re releasing our implementation plan on the expansion of after-school programs for every middle school student who needs one. And this is a crucial step forward to make sure that our children who need support, who need enrichment, who need a safe place to be after school, have that option.

This plan that we’re putting forward today shows the numbers and the scope of what we intend to do. This plan involves expanding programs from the current number, which is 239 middle schools that have after school available, to 512 middle schools, more than doubling the number of schools that have middle school available, and under this plan reaching 120,000 middle school kids. This is not a small undertaking. It’s not a pilot project. It’s not a boutique effort for only a few schools. This is system-wide change. This is a fundamental effort to improve our schools across the board, to make after school available for all kids who need it. And this is a game-changer. This means that for kids who need that help, who need that enrichment, it’s going to be there for them guaranteed for the first time ever. And we know that for tens of thousands of children and their families, it will be a game-changer in their lives.

Now, our report that we’ve released today shows we can more than double the reach of our after-school programs over the next year. We’ll be utilizing existing classroom space and our existing community-based organization network. And with them, we can rapidly wrap – ramp up capacity. So within the schools in our school systems and the community-based organizations with which we’re working already, we have the capacity to ramp up immediately. Now you say, how is that possible? Well remember an important fact – we talked about this a lot last year – that over the last few years in the previous administration, over 30,000 after-schools seats were cut. So over time, that capacity was built up. But over 30,000 seats were cut over the last few years. Therefore, a lot of capacity is out there waiting to be revived.

We also plan to upgrade the approach to after school. We’re going to upgrade all the slots across the board, adding hours and additional days so that every child has an opportunity to get up to 540 hours of enrichment – 540 hours per year of enrichment. And the model we’ll use is a proven model that will pair school principals with community-based organizations. And they’ll come into schools and, in effect, extend the learning day by an additional three hours. This is a crucial point. This is another way to get that extended learning time, and I think it’s the most efficient and the speediest way to do this so that for so many children in our city who need extra time in school, this is an immediate pathway to get it for them.

Now, I talk about constantly the fact that we want to do this because of the enriching capacity of after school. In fact it comes with tutoring, it comes with homework help, it comes with other academic enrichment that means that kids will finish their homework, they will keep on grade level, they will keep learning. If they’re stumbling across a roadblock, there’ll be teachers there to help them. And that alone would be worth it, but there’s a second part to this equation that’s so important for many of our children in many neighborhoods in this city. And that has to do with the reality of what happens in the middle school years, sixth, seventh, eighth grade. It’s a very tough time for a lot of kids. It’s a transitional time in their youth. It’s a time when kids are trying to find their way. I can tell you – and anyone who’s been a middle school parent or anyone who’s had a middle school child in their lives will tell you – it is a strange and difficult time in a child’s life. I often like to say I am a recovering middle school parent. It was just a few years ago that my kids were in middle school. And it comes with lots of challenges. It’s also a time where kids are trying to make decisions about who they’re going to be. And the negative influences around them – out on the streets – loom very large. I think it’s as simple as this – a lot of kids when they’re in sixth grade, seventh grade, eight grade, unfortunately get pulled by those negative influences. They get pulled by gangs and crews. They get pulled by the availability of illegal substances.

We want to make sure that instead, there’s a positive alternative – that children have a safe place to be, a nurturing place to be, a place where they can keep learning, a place where they’re with their classmates in a positive setting, a place where parents know their children are safe. And this is such an important part of the equation too. As parents work longer and longer hours and have fewer and fewer guarantees. The fact that parents who choose to participate in after school will know their kids are safe in that important time between the class day ending and the work day ending for so many parents. And I know that these after school efforts play a powerful role in focusing kids on their education, inspiring them, giving them belief that they can make it, that they can learn, that they can do well.

We’re talking about a number of things that happen in a good after school program. Some of it again is the basics – the homework help, the tutoring, the availability of trained professionals to help kids deal with what they’re learning in school every day. Some of it is the enrichment – lessons that are aligned to what the kids are learning in their school day classes. And that can be in areas like STEM, where obviously this is a huge growth area in our economy – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Programs at the after school level – the middle school level and after school could help kids to get exposure to that kind of enrichment early and show them the possibilities as they move forward to high school.

A whole range of additional elements are available in a good after school program. There’s arts and culture and dance and music and recreation. There are so many things that make kids want to be there, and want to keep learning. So this is about holistically investing in our children. Thinking about the whole child and supporting the whole child. And it’s about developing these children so they have that will to learn, that desire to learn, that desire to do well. It’s not something that happens in a test prep-driven or standardized test-driven system. It is something that can happen in a school system that embraces all elements of a child and gives them the opportunity to grow.

Now we’re ready to put this in place in the coming school year. We have the providers ready to provide the service. We have the models for what makes for a great after-school program. We have all of the basics in terms of space, the personnel ready. We need the funding. And we can’t achieve this vision for after school – this vision that so many kids need and so many parents yearn for. We can’t achieve it without dedicated, sustained and sufficient resources. The city put forward a plan that makes very clear how we would pay for afterschool, how we would pay for pre-K, over the next five years, establish it fully as a given in our school system, as something everyone could depend on. And then we would build from there. We know that our proposal will work. Other ideas have been put forward but without the clear and reliable funding attached. And that’s why we continue to fight in Albany for a plan to secure the funding we need. And we’ve put forward a plan to tax the wealthiest New Yorkers that we know will get the job done. And I look forward to going to Albany tomorrow, with this report in hand, with the report on pre-K in hand, to show our leaders in Albany what’s possible for the children of New York City, to convince them that with that reliable funding we can do great things – not just in these children’s lives, but to reset our school system as a whole, and to fundamentally move it forward.

Let me just offer a few words in Spanish before we take your questions. First on this topic and then on other topics.

Hoy hemos presentado un plan para expandir oportunidades educativas y recreacionales para estudiantes entre sexto y octavo grado en las horas despues de la escuela. Estos programas son seguros y de calidad, y mejoraran la vida de miles de estudiantes y de sus familias

Tenemos a los proveedores de programas. Tenemos los modelos a seguir. Necesitamos el dinero para lograrlo.

With that – grabbing for the water bottle – with that we would like your questions on this topic and then we’ll move to other topics.

Question: Mr. Mayor, could you talk a little bit more about your plans for your trip to Albany tomorrow – who you’re going to be meeting with, what sort of agenda you have.  And for lawmakers who you’ve spoken to in the past, who remain unconvinced about your tax hike plan – what makes you think this time will be different?

Mayor: Well, I think we keep adding information to the equation and I have to tell you it’s having a very big impact on the discussion. There were a lot of folks in the Legislature who wanted to know more when we started out. A lot of them were very moved by the first white paper that we put out in terms of pre-K and then by the additional report we put out last week on the availability of space. I know a lot of them are going to be moved by this. And I’ll tell you why – they want, obviously, a better school system. You talk to our legislators in Albany – no one will say to you they think the New York City schools are in the shape they need to be in. They hear that from their constituents all the time. So there’s been tremendous receptivity to the idea that pre-K would be a game-changer and afterschool would be a game-changer. They understand how much our constituents want it. A lot of them have wanted to see more facts about how it could be done and if we could keep to this rigorous schedule. And the more information we’re putting on the table, the more support we’re winning over.

Question: [inaudible]

Mayor: Well, we’re certainly going to speak to a lot of the folks who are going up there to rally on behalf of this plan. And I’ll talk to a number of legislative leaders as well. And, you know, this has been a constant dialogue with folks in Albany and we’re going to continue it tomorrow.

Question: The governor, too?

Mayor: I hope so.

Question: So there’s been – in your, sort of, overall tax plan, there’s the pre-K portion, afterschool portion – there’s a lot of consensus around the pre-K – the importance of the pre-K program – there’s debate about how to fund it, but we haven’t heard that same sort of level of support for afterschool. Are you concerned that that piece of the puzzle might be pushed off to the side if you do not get this tax hike? If we’re looking at state funding for pre-K?

Mayor: We’ve – you know – this plan was put forward almost 17 months ago. It’s actually – I believe my math is right – it’s 17 months tomorrow. It is the 17th month anniversary of the speech I originally gave October 4th, 2012 with this plan. And, I want to say as I look to Richard Buery, that Richard is the person in this administration who’s going to be responsible for driving this plan to completion across all of the agencies involved – Department of Education, Department of Youth and Community Development, Administration for Children’s Services. All of the elements of city government that provide service to children are going to be a part of this. City Hall is going to be deeply a part of this. And Richard is going to be the person who’s going to take all those strands and keep to this rigorous schedule. And we wanted that to be done at the deputy mayor level because it’s such a priority for this administration.

But I think the bottom line is, from the very beginning we’ve presented both pieces of the occasion. Talk to parents – there’s tremendous desire for more middle school availability. And think about why – because parents know that their kids need more support and they want a safe place for their kids to be and there’s a tremendous frustration among many parents that they can’t find an affordable option for their kids’ afterschool that gives them that safety and that enrichment. So this is keying into a really deeply felt need by parents. And I think the more details we put out, the more support we’re going to garner for this.

Question: Mr. Mayor, one of your established providers of after-school programs, in applauding and being happy to hear about your plan, said that they hope there’s a steady stream of funding to keep it going. So, where’s the money coming from for September? And what can you say to these providers about the idea of assuring them there will be a steady stream of funding?

Mayor: Well, look, I think we've done this the right way. Richard's been working to get this plan ready, with all the other key members of the administration. Dean Fuliehan, our budget director, has put a huge amount of time and energy into constructing this plan, we are working feverishly to get all the pieces in place, and the missing link is the funding. And I think it's pretty simple, I put forward a plan that bluntly, if Albany would approve it on April 1st, we would not only lock in funding for the upcoming school year, but for five years, which would be the way to go about a coherent, consistent effort. I think it's a clear, usable, effective proposal. I've said a thousand times, if someone else has a reliable funding source at this level that will get us through the next five years, I'm all ears. But the bottom line is, it's up to Albany to either provide us with the option that we've put forward, which I still believe is the single best most reliable option, or provide us with a different option, but we're ready to go. We are building out this capacity right now, and we're ready to go.

Question: Is there a chance it might not happen in September, because –

Mayor: Again, the way I look at it is, when there's this much energy, I believe that our leaders in Albany have to respond to it. I think you're hearing this from parents all over the city, demanding it. I mean, we had an election, that's one part of the puzzle here, but I want to say, the election per say is less the issue than the debate we've had in this town. I put this forward as my number one platform piece over the last year. We've continued to talk about it over the last few months. There's a huge amount of public support. I think a huge amount of public support means something in Albany. I think that will win the day. And we will have the resources we need to get this going on a huge scale, and that's what the people of this town are demanding. So, my point of view is, I still think the plan I put forward is the best way to do it. But I don't doubt that our voices are being heard in Albany. Rich.

Question: Mr. Mayor, how do you counter the argument that has been made that other cities and towns in New York that don't have the well of millionaires or high-income people to tax, so that this would be inherently, you know, unfair, to give this ability to New York City.

Mayor: Well, I think the common sense point's been made by some of the upstate editorial boards. I think Albany Times Union is an example, where they've said, look, if a city is in the position to take care of this on its own, that that's good for everyone. And I think a second point here is, that this is a need that has to be addressed as a matter of the future of our city, the future of our state, the future of our society. If we don't education right, nothing else is going to work. We're certainly not going to have the kind of work force we need in the future. We're not going to have the strong kind of society we need in the future. So, there's no question in my mind that pre-K is an issue whose time has come. Afterschool is an issue whose time has come. And you've been seeing it welling up for years. You've been seeing a growing focus on the question of education– the whole discussion, obviously, about whether we need to extend the learning day, which this keys into directly, the value of afterschool, that's another way to get at extended learning time. So, I think what this is all achieving is an important reset in our public debate, where we're now going to say, if we don't invest properly in education, we won't be able to secure our future. And if any place is able to do it the right way– and we in New York City are ready right now, right now to make this investment and make it work– that's going to have a hugely beneficial impact on the rest of the state, and on the rest of the country, because every city, every state that establishes that standard, it's going to start to move the whole nation forward. So, I think this is an act that actually will benefit everyone.

Question: [inaudible] standardized testing, the way you would during the school day, so how can you tell [inaudible] –

Mayor: No, no, let me– again, I'll be very careful to clarify whenever I hear something that's not what I meant to say. We're, by state law, by federal law, required to do a certain level of standardized testing, in general. What I'm trying to say is I think a school system that's too dominated by standardized testing and test prep– and I think that's the direction we were going in under the previous administration – I don't that allows us to address the needs of the child as a whole. And I think a lot of parents have been very frustrated by the over-focus on standardized testing. And they know, as parents– and I always say, parents are the first and last teachers of their children. They understand their children in a particular way, in a way no one else can, and they know that focusing on standardized testing – instead of focusing on the kind of enrichment our children need, and engagement our children need– doesn't lead us anywhere. So, as to your point of your question, how do we measure success? Look, we have a lot of measures. We're going to see if kids, as a result of being in these programs, if their attendance is better. We're going to see if their homework completion percentage is better. We're going to see if their grades are better. And of course, we'll see what happens with their test scores as well, and we think those will be better. So, there's a lot of ways to look at how afterschool can benefit a child's performance, but I think you've got to remember, in education, it begins with the basics. We want the kids to come to school, come to school energized, engaged, do their homework on time, participate fully, and I think afterschool really fosters this, and if you want to add, feel free.

Richard Buery: Sure. Thank you Mr. Mayor. I just have a few things. One is that DYCD has been running OST programs for a long time, and you had to develop program qualities tools to make sure that programs were operating at a high level of quality that we know are associated with some of the outcomes that the mayor spoke of. And so part of this is about DYCD's capacity, the problem of using community development to make sure that programs were operating at a high level of quality, and so that's part of the structure of the program. I also want to say it's important to remember that the value of these programs are not only measured by numbers. Everyone who has children who put their children in a sports program, who put their children in an arts program, isn't doing it because they think they're going to see a test result at the end of the day. They're doing it because they know that quality enrichment experiences are a critical part of how young children learn and grow. And I would say that every child in New York City should have the opportunity to engage in the kind of quality developmental experiences, whether art or music, et cetera, even if the impact is not measured by a test score.

Mayor: I want to remind you, Richard knows a lot about what he speaks about. He just came to us from having been the president of the Children's Aid Society, and the Children's Aid Society innovated so many of the educational efforts that we now consider fundamental in terms of early childhood education, afterschool, community schools. So, Richard is here because he understands what works for the whole child, and he is in a position to help drive this through to completion.

Question: Mayor, are you definitely meeting with Governor Cuomo [inaudible]?

Mayor: Well, meaning to say, as you know, I talk to the governor a lot, and if I'm up there, I hope we can make the schedules match. I don't know what his schedule is, but if there's a way we can make it match, that'd be great. 

Question: Are you meeting with Dean Skelos?

Mayor: We're still working on the calendar, but my hope is to meet with a range of legislative leaders and members of the legislature. 

Question: Can you talk about [inaudible] education, and a large group of charter school parents will be in Albany tomorrow, protesting with their kids because they're not happy with your decision, many of their kids wouldn't have the school they were planning on having, expecting on having, this September. I'm sure they want to talk to you, what would you say to them?

Mayor: I'd say that we looked at the review of the previous decisions by the Bloomberg administration. We found that a number of the schools that were approved could move forward and do what we thought would be an effective job of educating kids. We found, in a small number of cases, that we thought the decision by the previous administration would not work, educationally. I outlined some of the points on Friday, that it would either be a school being placed in the wrong kind of building– for example, an elementary school being placed in a high school building– it would be a decision that would negatively impact the availability of seats for special ed kids. There were a variety of criteria, but in a small number of cases, we felt that the decision would not benefit the education of our children as a total. So, the point here is, we've said repeatedly, repeatedly, we'll work with charter schools. A number of charter schools got approved as a result of this review. But we're also going to ask for fairness for all parts of our school system. And we know, in the past, that some of the public schools that received charter schools coming into them, actually saw their programming diminished, saw the dynamics for their kids diminished. We don't want that imbalance. We don't want that unfairness. We want to set up a fair structure going forward. So, I've said many, many times: charter schools are part of the lineup. About 5 or 6 percent of our kids go to charter schools. A lot of them do a fine job. We're going to work with them. We won't unduly favor some of them, the way I think was done in the previous administration, but we're going to work with charter schools, and a lot of charter schools, in fact, were approved in the review last week.

Question: [inaudible] those kids go to another schools, because they were expecting to have those schools –

Mayor: As I've said, we are going to work with those parents to find the best available options, and more importantly, we're going to work through a variety of means, through pre-k, through afterschool, through a change in our approach to teacher training, teacher retention. Our bigger job here is to fix our schools. The underlying concept is that kids have to find a different alternative because their zone school, for example, isn't sufficient. That's not an acceptable state of affairs in New York City. So, we're embarking on a series of very big changes, looking to the day when, in any neighborhood in this city, in any zip code, you can find a good quality local school. That's what we're about. We want to fix the root cause. Now, some of the root cause is a lack of early childhood education. Some of the root cause is a lack of an extended school day, which we're going to address with afterschool. Some of it is, we are hemorrhaging good teachers. Our teacher retention rate is a real problem. So there's a lot of things we have to do to fix our schools. But for any kids that are in that situation, their families, we'll certainly work with them to find good alternatives.

Phil: We're running low on time, guys, a couple more, please.

Question: Mayor, you've– the governor has said that he basically is offering a blank check for pre-k and afterschool programs. Do you think that he [inaudible] elected, [inaudible] about using that for five years, do you think that he's lying about that?

Mayor: Obviously the governor and I know each other for almost 20 years. We both want to see progress on pre-k and afterschool, as something that is a good part of this whole discussion. As I said the other day, we're not talking about "if" any longer, we're talking about the when and the how, and that is progress for all of us. What I need to see is a multi-year plan. I need to see reliability of funding. I need to see a dollar figure that will allow us to get this done. And that's what I know will allow us to serve the kids of the city. 

Question: Is it the governor's job to move that plan forward, or is it your job?

Mayor: I put forward the plan. 

Question: Given what's going on in Albany, it seems that you really have to convince the Senate Republicans, or at least the Senate, to back your pre-k plans, give you your tax on the wealthy. I'm wondering what you think of the major hurdle of trying to convince the Senate to back the tax, and if it's complicated by the fact of what you said today about charter schools, and if that's muddying the waters of you trying to lobby [inaudible]

Mayor: No, I don't think anything muddies the waters, I think there's too much of a demand for pre-k and afterschool at this point, for any other issue to muddy the waters. I think the point here, as in anything where there's a public process, a public debate, is that the senators are going to hear more and more from their constituents in favor of this. They're going to feel more and more that this is something that has to be done. I think it's just sort of a classic dynamic where we're making the case all the time, and we're gaining a lot of support, and that's what wins the day in these things. It's not where you start. It's not where you finish. 

Question: Mr. Mayor, is there an absolute deadline by which you have to get this tax passed in order to enact this program for this year? And are you surprised at the amount of selling you're having to do in regard to this, including personal trips to Albany?

Mayor: Oh, I always expected to put a lot of energy into this. It's my number one initiative. It's the thing I think will have the biggest impact on the future of this city. You know, I mentioned in one of my recent speeches, that you have to think– in this job, you can't just think about next year– you have to think years and decades ahead in terms of what you're doing for the people of this city, and I'm convinced this is the most important investment we're going to make. So, I knew that something of that magnitude would take real energy, but I have to tell you how gratified I am– there is such a positive response. And I go all over the city, the response from every kind of New Yorker is so strong. When we go to Albany, it's obviously front and center in the discussions. You've seen how many members of the Assembly, for example, have come forward with their support. So, I could not be happier with the kind of response we've gotten. As to the budget timeline, let's let the guru himself speak to that. 

Budget Director Dean Fuleihan: The easy answer is that there is more than enough time at this point within the state budget to have that effect. As you know today actually the web page is up, parents are getting involved in sites, and their interest in pre-K. The Mayor is given a clear directive to all of us in this city to move forward and make sure the implementation of both of these programs occurs in the beginning of September. So given that with the revenue anticipated and the period of time we clearly can do this.

Question: [Inaudible].

Fuleihan: There is obviously an ultimate deadline but at this point in time we are clearly within a period where this can be enacted without creating any disruption in the implementation of the program. So as we are doing this and the hope and all the effort is to have this part of the state budget

Mayor: By the way, I did not mean to interrupt you, Mr. Walzak, I will let you speak in one second. I think the fact is, just amplifying Dean’s point; the application process for pre-K as with every year is starting now. Parents are making plans for next year now. This is becoming very real, very personal, and very immediate and it is going to have a huge impact on families. And when people feel that and they make that known for our legislators, I think a lot starts to happen.

Question: [Inaudible].

Mayor: We can promise parents in accordance with the real dollars that are put on the table. And that’s why I have said we have put forward a plan that has a very specific tangible way to get us to 530 million dollars for five years. It is consistent with previous taxation approaches that this city has taken that were approved in Albany. We did not come up with this model from old [inaudible], we borrowed from previous models that have worked. I know I can guarantee parents what they want if I had that plan. I know I can guarantee every child in this city full day pre-K within the next two years and then there after consistently. I know I can guarantee this great expansion of middle school if we get the resources we need. Any other alternative has to provide the resources and has to do on a reliable basis. The last thing the parents would want is for something to be put forward for a year then go right back down for lack of funding. So this is a big enterprise we are putting together here and it needs to be sustained. So we have a plan to do it the right way. If there is an alternative great, if there isn’t and there is no money I think parents will feel very let down by that.

Question: [Inaudible].

Mayor: No, we understood that he was going to be joining us at Borough Hall last week and I was surprised he did not. We had a very far-ranging discussion of the things that needed to be addressed. We made clear to everyone all of the elected officials in a bipartisan group in the room there in Staten Island Borough Hall that we were coming up quickly for a plan with a new leadership approach to start to address us with any issues. I am not satisfied with how things have been left by the previous administration. We are going to take some very different actions. We thought he was going to join us at that meeting. Thanks everyone.