Orthodox Union Calls On New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to Make His Signature Universal Pre-K Program “Truly Universal”

After nearly a year of advocacy, working to ensure that New York City Jewish day schools would be included in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) program, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS has launched a campaign in New York City calling on the Mayor to “Make Universal Pre-K Universal.”

The campaign is targeted to raise awareness among New York City’s Jewish community and the greater public that Mayor de Blasio’s pledge to offer every child in New York City “truly universal, full-day pre-K” has left New York City’s Jewish day school students out in the cold.

OU Advocacy-Teach NYS has attempted to work with Mayor de Blasio since the inception of his expanded UPK program in January 2014. Despite the $300 million Mayor de Blasio received from the state for the expansion of New York City’s UPK program and repeated promises from the mayor that the program would accommodate all of the city’s four-year-olds, 89 percent of the Jewish community’s pre-K age children are still unable to participate in UPK.

This is due to the difficulty Jewish day schools encounter in order to adequately accommodate the 6 hours and 20 minutes of uninterrupted secular instruction required by the Mayor’s rules, while still maintaining appropriate levels of privately-funded religious instruction.

“As the largest provider of non-public education in New York City, Jewish day schools should be a partner in Mayor de Blasio’s UPK program, but the restrictive hour requirements for the program make it nearly impossible for Jewish day schools to participate,” said Maury Litwack, OU Advocacy’s Director of State Political Affairs.

“The essence of this issue is that Mayor de Blasio wants a universal program that every child in New York should get, but only 11 percent of the largest private school population in New York City has been able to avail itself of the program,” said Allen Fagin, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union. “That is simply not universal.”

Litwack noted that, historically, New York City has had a half-day pre-K program that has been available to Jewish day schools. That program is due to expire at the end of this school year.

As recently as early-December, the Mayor pledged to issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a half-day pre-K program, which provides an alternative option to the full-day program. Since that pledge, however, the Mayor’s office has provided no additional information about the half-day RFP or the program.

Together with its coalition of New York City Jewish day schools and yeshivas, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS has asked the Mayor repeatedly to make the requirements of the full-day UPK program more flexible and to expand the slots available for the half-day UPK program, in order for the Mayor to realize his vision of universal pre-K education for every child in New York City.

Mayor de Blasio has responded to these requests with no clear plan or timetable for including Jewish day school students.

“It is now almost February and schools need time to plan for the upcoming school year,” said Litwack.

“The Mayor simply cannot reach his goal of complete enrollment of all New York City’s four-year-olds in UPK without Jewish day schools,” Litwack added.

OU Advocacy-Teach NYS calls on all New Yorkers to help “Make Universal Pre-K Universal” by contacting Mayor de Blasio and urging him to accommodate the needs of the Jewish day school community.