City Promises ‘Additional’ Half-Day UPK Slots

From The Jewish Week.

When the city expanded universal pre-K last year, the focus on full-day seats left most of the city’s Jewish schools unable to participate. But in a letter last week, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery hinted that was about to change.

At least a little bit.

In a Dec. 1 letter assuring the Committee of NYC Religious and Independent School Officials that the half-day program would continue, Buery noted that there will be “additional half-day pre-K” slots next year.

Buery said he’s still determining the details of the half-day program — Jewish officials have no idea if there will be 50 extra seats or 5,000 — but the commitment to some amount nevertheless leaves day school advocates at least cautiously optimistic.

“We were concerned that the half-day program might be being phased out and it was reassuring to hear from the deputy mayor that that is not the case — at least in the immediate future,” said Rabbi David Zwiebel, chairman of the Committee of Religious and Independent School Officials, who had written to Buery asking after finding only full-day seats in the city’s first call for schools to apply to participate. 

Rabbi Zwiebel, who is also executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, which advocates on behalf of traditionally Orthodox communities, said he hopes the city will consider offering something in between the 2.5-hour half-day and the 6-hour-20-minute full-day options, since part of the day is taken up with Jewish activities.

The Orthodox Union is also eager for details. “We feel that this is an important first step, but there are a lot more questions,” said Maury Litwack, the Orthodox Union’s advocacy director of state and political affairs. Only 14 percent of day schools can participate in full-day,  he said.

“Universal is not 14 percent,” he said. “If you think about the number of Jewish day school students in the city, we should be eligible for this program.”

It’s not just Orthodox schools that are pushing for more half-day slots. The UJA-Federation of New York, for example, has also been lobbying the city. 

“We’ve made the case that there’s a need for half-day UPK, and we’re thrilled that the city continues to show that they value cultural competency through their commitment to day schools and yeshivas,” said Cara Berkowitz, the federation’s director of city and federal affairs.

In an interview with The Jewish Week, Buery said there’s “overwhelming research” that a full 6 hours and 20 minutes is best for 4-year-olds’ development. “That being said,” he added, “we recognize there are still families for many of whom part-day makes sense ... and we’re very serious about keeping our promises.”