by Eytan Kobre
March 4, 2015
A centerpiece of Bill de Blasio’s successful 2013 campaign for New York City mayor was his plan to bring to the Big Apple state-funded preschool classes to help ensure four-year-olds’ readiness for kindergarten, a program known nationwide as Universal Pre-K (UPK). Although Mr. de Blasio invited yeshivos to apply for the $7,500-per-child grants, some in the city’s Orthodox Jewish community are now claiming the program isn’t nearly as inclusive as the word “universal” in its name might indicate.
In the just-ended first year of the program, for which New York State is providing $300 million in funding, only 1,000 yeshivah kids, or 11% of the overall yeshivah student population, were enrolled. But after many months of lobbying by the frum community, Mr. de Blasio recently announced changes that he said would make UPK programs much more broadly accessible to religious Jewish youngsters.
Among the changes are: permission for a short break in the school day that could be used for the children to daven and bentsh; a change in the classroom hours requirement from a daily one of just over six hours to a weekly one of about 30.5 hours; and a change that will allow schools to count classroom time on Sundays and federal holidays toward the required number of hours.
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