This Monday, the Earth Institute presented the NYC Summit on Children in the Roone Arledge Auditorium. Hundreds of education and social service heavyweights were in attendance, with mayor-elect and SIPA grad, Bill de Blasio, taking stage as the keynote speaker. Bwogger Heather Akumiah was in attendance and took notes at a hand cramping speed.
Mayor elect Bill de Blasio started his speech (after an introduction by PrezBo and a huge round of applause) by delivering some dismal statistics about wealth inequality in New York. Forty-six percent of New Yorkers currently live at or below the poverty line. Of the thirty most populous cities in the United States, New York claims the highest gap in wealth. De Blasio insists that this gap is key in breeding education inequality. In recent years, the racial and economic divisions on high school test scores have become increasingly pronounced. In all of New York, only twenty-two percent of high school seniors were found to be college-ready, with Black and Latino students scoring even less. It is undeniable that economic destiny is directly liked to education; to leave the education issue unsolved would only perpetuate this damaging cycle.
De Blasio admits that there are a lot of factors that go into this sort of stratification: some national, global, and historical in nature. Still, he encourages New York to take responsibility of its current state; and in a time where we can’t look to our country’s defective congress to solve our issues, he vows to remedy it.
First, de Blasio proposes a series of immediate and short-term actions. He says that we must leverage economic policy to increase wages for workers who have traditionally been left out, and proposes affordable housing and job skills training to strengthen New York’s job force.
But longterm changes will come with our investment in young people. De Blasio first proposes high quality, full-day pre kindergarten programs for all. Most childhood brain development happens before the age of five, and pre-k can reduce achievement gaps by forty percent. In the absence of early childhood education, at-risk children are twenty-five percent more likely to drop out of school, forty percent more likely to become teen parents, fifty percent more likely to be enrolled in special education, and seventy percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime. At the moment, there are five applications to every one seat in most New York pre-k programs, and many have acceptance rates comparable to those of Columbia, Princeton, and Yale (de Blasio insisted on listing the schools in this order).
He also proposes free after school care for middle school students, as studies have proven that after school programs can reduce juvenile crime in middle school students by over fifty percent. Unfortunately, middle school is one of the sectors of the New York public school system that is most often ignored. In recent years, after school funding has taken massive cuts, losing over 30,000 seats since 2008. In a city where half of all families are single parent, this means that one in four New York middle schoolers is left alone and unsupervised once school is let out.
De Blasio plans to create an early education working group comprised of educators, advocates, non-profit leaders, and government professionals to act on his ideas. In order for this to happen, de Blasio says we’ll need a dedicated revenue stream, which would rely on money from new taxes on New Yorker’s who make over a half million dollars a year. In the Q&A session, however, de Blasio’s ex boss and close friend, David Dinkins, warned him to prepare for a tough fight in Albany.
To see the speech for yourself, click here.