De Blasio’s Learning Bridges program is under enrolled — and likely over budget

De Blasio’s Learning Bridges program is under enrolled — and likely over budget

Christina Veiga, Chalkbeat New York

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters

Mayor Bill de Blasio knew that this year’s school schedule would be hard on working families, with students only returning to buildings part-time. That’s why the city promised this summer to quickly prop up child care programs for 100,000 students on the days they weren’t in buildings.

But as of March, only 15,000 children were enrolled in the Learning Bridges and Learning Labs programs, according to a report released Thursday by the Independent Budget Office. 

Moreover, despite the city’s pledge to prioritize neighborhoods considered hard-hit by COVID-19, fewer than half the programs were located in those areas, the report found.

Even with the low uptake, the effort will probably run well over the initial budgeted price tag of $150 million. So far, the education department estimates that its portion of the tab will cost $93 million, double the currently projected amount. (The program is also run and paid for through the Department of Youth & Community Development, though the report did not include an estimate of how much would be spent from that city agency.)

“There are two things we point out that are issues: one is that they’re probably going to need more money by the end of the year,” said Paul J. Lopatto, a supervising analyst for the Independent Budget Office. “And the other thing is for all the effort, they only have 15,000 kids enrolled.” 

In some ways, the enrollment numbers shouldn’t be too surprising. They track closely with how many students filed into emergency childcare centers that the city rushed to establish last spring, when school buildings first closed. Those Regional Enrichment Centers, which catered to the families of first responders and other essential workers, served about 13,000 students.

New York City geared up to serve 100,000 students in child care programs, but only about 15,000 showed up.
 Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office

But there have been other stumbling blocks with getting the child care program off the ground this school year. Families of children with disabilities said they were turned away from Learning Bridges and Learning Labs sites that couldn’t accommodate their children’s needs. Others said that they were matched with inconvenient locations — transportation is not provided to the sites  — or with operating hours that didn’t make sense for working families. Many families didn’t get seat offers until well after the school year began, which meant they already had to make other arrangements. 

Fears of the virus are also likely contributing to low enrollment, with about 70% of students choosing to learn from home

Vito Interrante, a top official at Children’s Aid, which runs four childcare sites, said that many families who sent their children to school buildings were worried about additional exposure to the virus at Learning Labs sites. Attendance was higher in programs where the organization already had an established relationship with a school and their students, he said. Without that previous relationship, the “idea of trusting another organization with your kids” was a tough hurdle for many families.

“There were many parents who didn’t know us,” he said. “We had space. There weren’t enough kids.” 

As for the cost, Interrante wasn’t surprised that the price tag remains high even while enrollment is low, because centers spent a good deal of money to ensure they were ready with the appropriate number of staffers and protective gear such as masks, in case children did show up. 

“Even though that many kids didn’t come or don’t register over time, you’re still geared up for it,” he said.  

The city has tried to adapt the program to better suit families, even allowing students who opted for remote-learning only to enroll. 

“Families made radical lifestyle changes around school attendance in the spring and fall due to COVID-19,” said Mark Zustovich, a spokesperson for the Department of Youth & Community Development. “Families had to balance their work schedules with assessments of the COVID risk in their communities. Due in part to these variables and the constantly evolving pandemic, enrollment of blended-only students was lower than expected.”

De Blasio has pledged to reopen schools full-time next year, though that will largely depend on the pace of vaccinations in the city, virus variants, and whether families feel safe sending their children back to buildings. 

The budget report notes that less than $300,000, a fraction of this year’s price tag, has been dedicated to the childcare program for next year. 

“Whether the program will still be needed in 2022 depends on the course of vaccination and reopening efforts and—especially—the future of remote learning options,” the report notes.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Latest from the Roosevelt Island Daily News desk…

The Manhattan Bridge, DUMBO, Fine Art Photography Print/©Deborah Julian

Police Brutality? Incident Saturday at Bread & Butter Deli

The familiar ping on my iPhone caught my attention, but it was Saturday. Some time off planned, but seeing the message, my mind went straight back to work. An apparent incident of police brutality had been captured on video. by David Stone The Roosevelt Island Daily News Was it police brutality? Police brutality is a…

Keep reading
I Love My Park Day at Four Freedoms

Assembling Adirondack Chairs. I Love My Park Day at Four Freedoms 

I Love My Park Day at Four Freedoms opened with persistent rains, gusty winds sweeping off the East River… and the heartiest band of park lovers you’re likely to meet anywhere. by David Stone The Roosevelt Island Daily News I Love My Park Day 2022, FDR Four Freedoms State Park The temperature on my iPhone…

Keep reading

Roosevelt Islanders Go Around the World, Helping Neediest

We’ve been following Roosevelt Islanders Jim and Bix Luce and their strenuous treks through India. Funded by local foundations with multiple lines of help, they’ve been opening schools for “untouchable” kids and collaborating with local leaders. Following is a digest of their most recent efforts from notes sent from high in the Himalayas. by David…

Keep reading

It’s today, and you’re invited. Meet the artist Bogdan Matei

This evening, from 5:00 to 8:00, renowned artist Bogdan Matei invites you to an opening reception for this show, Red Rock Fantasy, at RIVAA’s Octagon Gallery, 888 Main Street, Roosevelt Island. The Roosevelt Island Daily News MORE FROM THE ROOSEVELT ISLAND DAILY NEWS davidstone1313 See author's posts

Keep reading
Color Hospital Roosevelt Island

Mother’s Day Is Coming. Coler Auxiliary Adds Sweet Warmth

The Coler Auxiliary will not allow a lonely Mother’s Day confined in a rehab center. They will add warmth and love, one more sweet show of Roosevelt Islanders caring for each other. by David Stone The Roosevelt Island Daily News Coler Auxiliary Readies for a Special Mother’s Day Coler Auxiliary member Jacqueline Kwedy prepares gifts…

Keep reading

Dog Run Tempers Flared. Then RIOC Did Less Than Nothing

A proposed new, safe and healthy dog run brought opposing groups to a late 2019 RIOC board meeting. What the state agency did next – nothing – led to simmering conflicts over two years later. by David Stone The Roosevelt Island Daily News The Dog Run That Never Was Then Octagon resident Scott Piro gathered…

Keep reading

Loading…

Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Share

Written by:

2,199 Posts

View All Posts
Follow Me :

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: