The city recently announced devastating plans to cut funds to Beacon programs, school-based community centers serving children, youth and adults. There are 80 Beacons throughout New York City and they operate in the afternoons and evenings, on weekends, during school holidays and vacation periods and during the summer.
They are well-used, popular programs on which city residents rely, but there are plans to eliminate seven Beacons, including two in Queens. At a time when the municipal budget outlook is starting to brighten after years of gloom, it makes no sense to close Beacon programs.
Beacons are vital to all communities because they serve nearly 70,000 New Yorkers a year. Programs provided a range from tutoring assistance to athletic programs to cultural and recreational activities. Studies show that without such after-school programs, children are more susceptible to falling into dangerous activities and harming themselves or others.
Ultimately, Beacon programs are safe havens for children to turn to while their parents are at work. They also allow civic associations, community organizations and others to meet in public schools, thereby building communities. In short, Beacons benefit children, parents and community members alike. If Beacons close, parents will have to either come up with the money to pay for private child care or put their children’s safety at risk.
At a time of continuing economic uncertainty, that is a choice no family should face.
The decision about which schools’ Beacon programs will lose funding has apparently been made by identifying the ZIP codes the agency considers the least needy. These communities will lose programs first.
In my view, this method of cutting spending is unfair. The Queens residents who use Beacons are families paying their fair share of taxes to keep the programs functioning, yet the city is unfairly targeting specific areas when planning to shut down programs. This amounts to economic profiling against families in which there are two working adults.
When the city proposed similar cuts in the past, my City Council colleagues and I fought successfully for the restoration of the funding. All communities depend on after-school programs, and the neighborhoods of Queens are no exception.