Today, the Orthodox Union released the following statement responding to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s attempt to respond to shortcomings in his signature UPK program:
For more than a year, the Orthodox Union has made the case to City Hall that New York’s Yeshivas and Jewish day schools are—by virtue of unwarranted and arbitrary rules invented by Mayor de Blasio—unable to participate in the Mayor’s signature Universal Pre-K program.
“When we heard Mayor de Blasio would, this week, modify his rules and accommodate New York’s Jewish day school students, we were optimistic. Unfortunately, the information released by City Hall today contains only cosmetic changes to the rules and New York’s Jewish day school parents still cannot expect to enroll their children in a City-funded UPK program next September,” said Maury Litwack, OU Advocacy’s Director of State Political Affairs.
The Mayor’s insistence upon an uninterrupted 6-hour and 20-minute secular instruction day—an hour and twenty minutes longer than that required by New York State—has made it impossible for more than 11 percent of New York’s Jewish day school children to participate in the UPK program.
According to information released today by City Hall, the Mayor is altering the rules of the program. Jewish day schools and yeshivas will be permitted to count instruction on Sundays and Federal holidays toward the secular instruction hours required by the City, which will now be counted by week instead of per day.
“We are disappointed that the Mayor has responded to our advocacy with cosmetic changes that will not increase Yeshiva and Jewish day school participation in the program,” said Litwack. “The changes released today will not solve the problem of leaving Jewish day school students out of this program.”
“The utilization of Sundays is not new policy; it existed last year and failed to increase enrollment above 11 percent. The use of Federal holidays is equally unlikely to increase enrollment. Making simple changes to allow our schools to utilize the state-mandated 5-hour day and to dramatically expand the half-day slots would have been new policy that would have increased enrollment significantly. Instead, practically, these changes would force four-year-olds into an almost unending school attendance that would include Sundays and Federal holidays,” Litwack added.
For now, if parents in our community ask whether they can expect to place their children in Universal Pre-K next September, the answer, based on City Hall’s message today, is ‘no.’