The New York City Department of Education has released a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for half-day pre-kindergarten programs for the coming school year. This long-awaited development was hailed by Agudath Israel of America as “welcome news for many Orthodox Jewish children, parents and schools.” This will give families and providers who wish to participate in the city’s heralded “UPK” program an option other than the full-day, 6 hour and 20 minutes program, which many in the religious school community and others found unacceptable.
This development follows on the heels of an April 23, 2015 letter from Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s Executive Vice President, to Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, pushing for the release of the half-day RFP as the Deputy Mayor had assured the Agudath Israel leader would be done several months ago.
One of the major initiatives of the de Blasio administration has been to make quality pre-kindergarten programming available for all children across the city. However, the Mayor’s model for full-day UPK programming is for 6 hours and 20 minutes per day of secular instruction, which many yeshivos and families felt was not workable for 4-year olds, as the children would have to stay later for religious instruction.
Earlier this year, the City made some changes to the RFP for full-day programs to accommodate some of the concerns raised by Agudath Israel and other groups representing yeshivos and other religious school communities. Those changes included allowing for a short break in the middle of the day for non-program activities such as religious instruction, blessings and prayer; allowing certain federal holidays to be counted to meet the 180 day requirement of instruction; and allowing the 6 hours and 20 minutes of secular instruction per day to be spread out over the course of a six day week, as long as there are 31 hours and 40 minutes of secular instruction per week.
While these accommodations were helpful to some yeshivos, many yeshivos informed Agudath Israel that they still could not work within the full-day framework. As Rabbi Zwiebel stated in his April 23, 2015 letter to Deputy Mayor Buery, “the time has surely arrived for the city to … take the steps necessary to make quality pre-K programing available for the full range of children and families across the city, including those for whom half-day programing is clearly the best, if not the only, option.”
In issuing the RFP for half-day programming, the city made clear that its preferred mode of pre-k programming was the full-day model. Nonetheless, for the time being, at least, the city is prepared to continue to fund a “modest” number of half-day programs.
“We are grateful to the city for releasing this RFP,” said Rabbi Zwiebel, “and we will continue to push for as many programs and slots as are needed for our community.”