De Blasio's first budget kicks in aid for after-school programs and arts education

Having secured state pre-K funds and settled the teachers contract, Mayor Bill de Blasio is now turning his attention to funding after-school programs and boosting arts education.

In his first executive budget presentation on Thursday, de Blasio announced a $73.9 billion spending plan that he said was built with an eye on schools and improving educational opportunities for the city’s highest-need students and their families.

In addition to allocating $300 million to add more than 30,000 full-day seats, as expected, de Blasio also plans to spend $145 million to fund 34,000 new seats for after-school programs for middle schoolers, a less- emphasized part of his effort to expand social services for needy students.

The allocation is less than the $190 million that de Blasio initially planned for when he lobbied to increase the city’s income tax to fund the after-school and pre-K programs. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republican lawmakers rejected that proposal and instead offered to fund the programs through the state.  

The pre-K funding will come from new money set aside in the state budget for a competitive grant program. To fund after-school, the city was given permission this year to dip into $430 million of state aid that’s typically allocated for traditional K-12 programs.

“Clearly, the way that the school aid was designated, it indicated specifically that after-school was an appropriate use and so we’ve devoted that to after-school,” de Blasio at a press conference to present the budget’s highlights.

Though he didn’t receive funding through an income tax, de Blasio said on Thursday that his proposed budget, which needs a final approval from the City Council, was still in line with the progressive agenda he promised during last year’s mayoral campaign.

“All of the pieces fit the signature program that pre-K and after school does a lot for our children in terms of their future economically,” de Blasio said “It does a lot for parents right now, in terms of providing services they need that, for many parents, come out of their pocket when it comes to pre-K and after schools.”

The plan also allocates an extra $20 million for arts education programs. Under the previous administration, total arts spending hovered around $300 million, but de Blasio said that too many schools were out of compliance with state laws requiring students to receive a certain number of time in arts class.

“It’s the right thing to do, but more important, it’s the state law,” de Blasio said, echoing statements made by Chancellor Carmen Fariña last month.

The proposed budget is a nearly 6 percent increase over the $69.8 billion spending plan that de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, presented last May. At the time, Bloomberg issued a doomsday forecast for the city’s economy, warning that no mayor could afford to give teachers 8 percent retroactive raises as part of new contract negotiations.

“It’s just something the city can’t possible afford,” Bloomberg said last May.

But last week, de Blasio struck a contract deal with the United Federation of Teachers that not only awarded members with retroactive raises and backpay, but also gave them an extra 10 percent wage increase spread out over several years.

At the press conference, de Blasio crowed about the nine-year pact, which will cost the city $5.5 billion.

“The contract achieved a number of things that had been deemed nearly impossible by various pundits,” de Blasio said.

Budget officials said on Thursday that the UFT raises set a pattern for the city’s other municipal unions that is estimated to cost a total of $13.4 billion. To off set those costs, officials said they expect to save money through less expensive healthcare plans for public employees and by tapping into the city’s labor reserve fund.

De Blasio said that there will be money to reduce overcrowding and the use of classroom trailers. He also wants to spend $20 million to steer more students into science, technology, engineering and math careers. The allocation, which would increase to $50 million in future years, would subsidize tuition and other college preparation programs for junior college students.

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