The Mayor on Education: A Mixed Bag
Mayor Bloomberg gave the state of New York City address yesterday. The mayor was almost breathless to announce the city is alive with energy and hope. He promised to pioneer innovations and grow the economy and our schools. Here, here! He was off to a good start.
Then the mayor highlighted as a success the people who have moved from welfare to work. He said, "Over the past five years, we've moved more than 400,000 people from welfare to work. Our welfare rolls are down 18% from 2002 - and are now lower than at any time since 1964. Still... nearly one in five New Yorkers - many of whom set the alarm clock and punch the time clock every working day - live below the Federal poverty line".
The mayor cannot maintain that welfare to work is a SUCCESS if in the next breath the mayor acknowledges that for 20% of New Yorkers, full time jobs still lead to a life below the federal poverty line. What the mayor is importantly saying here is that work alone is not always a route out of poverty, and that those in poverty are often working very hard with the hope of achieving financial security.
Next the mayor offered a new program coming from his poverty commission, "The second commission recommendation we're announcing today will help working students at CUNY's community colleges step forward to earn higher degrees - and then, higher incomes. Right now, the demands of their jobs prevent far too many of them from completing their studies and without degrees, they often remain among our working poor. So this September the City University will establish dedicated morning, afternoon, and evening tracks, enabling some working students to do all their schoolwork during hours convenient for them."
I agree that so often, without degrees, people can remain among the working poor. And it is great to hear the mayor acknowledge this truth as well. I support the mayor to work with CUNY and other stakeholders to make college work for students. I would urge him to consider policies and programs that will enable all students to access higher education. Right now, people receiving welfare - parents as well as children- are being prevented from pursuing college by wrong-headed policy that forces them to complete many hours of make-work tasks in order to receive benefits. To sustain the hope we have and grow hope for the next generation, the mayor needs to be consistent with "the roadmap" for poor New Yorkers to help themselves.
Child-care is a major hurdle for people working and pursuing college degrees. Yet, city after school programs were cut last year. We actually need more programs not fewer. Again, Mr. Mayor, change your policy.
The mayor was buoyant and delighted with his city in his speech yesterday. I don't blame him; we are a great city. Pioneering innovation for public policy requires some clear thinking with some lived experience beyond City Hall, Wall Street and the boardroom. I urge the mayor to reach beyond his usual allies for ideas on innovation to the students and parents receiving welfare, the poor and low-income New Yorkers who supply a big chunk of the hope and energy in this great city.