This week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to release a new Request for Proposals through which schools may seek government funding for half-day Universal Pre-K (UPK) programs.
Since the inception of the Mayor’s expanded UPK program in January, OU Advocacy-Teach NYS has been advocating for full inclusion for all Jewish day school students—through this type of half-day program, but also through an accommodating full-day UPK program.
Currently, less than 20 percent of preschool aged students within the Jewish Day school community participate in a full-day UPK program. This is due to the difficulty yeshivas and day schools encounter in order to adequately accommodate 6 hours and 20 minutes of uninterrupted secular instruction while maintaining appropriate levels of religious instruction.
The Orthodox Union welcomes the half-day program proposal as a constructive first step by the Mayor in creating more opportunities for participation in UPK. However, based on feedback from a broad range of Jewish day schools, we must seek clarification on key issues related to the UPK program and Jewish day school eligibility going forward.
- Will the new half-day UPK program be able to provide seats for the roughly 80 percent of Jewish day school students currently unable to access the full-day program?
- Will the hours and funding requirements remain the same as in previous half-time RFPs or will they change?
- Will the new RFP be issued in a timely manner to allow our schools to adequately prepare and apply for this program for the 2015-16 academic years?
- Can the full-day program be structured to allow for pro-rated funding of a five-hour program, in a manner consistent with past precedent and current New York State law?
We urge Mayor de Blasio to clarify these important concerns as soon as possible. Most Jewish day schools were unable to participate in the first year of the expanded UPK program. We, and the many Jewish day schools of New York City who are our partners, are eager to work with the Mayor to realize the vision of Universal Pre-K education for all.