In his first inaugural address in 1959, Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown said that “Both our Constitution and our conscience enjoin us to invest money in young minds, our greatest natural resources,” because he was confident that our investment in free public education would be returned “manyfold to our economy and to the strength of our democratic government.”
As a long-time public servant in California who has fought for years to improve the livelihood of our state’s children – and a nonprofit leader who has worked to ensure our state implements policies that ensure equity in educational opportunities – we agree that public education remains a critical investment.
We also know that education doesn’t just happen within the four walls of the classroom. Children spend many more hours out of school than in. Children lucky enough to be born into educated families with sufficient financial resources use that time in music lessons, summer camps, private tutoring and exploring our state’s magnificent parks and shorelines. These activities broaden their horizons and contribute significantly to their school success.
Children from our lowest-resource communities typically do not have these opportunities, and this disparity is one of the most significant contributors to both our opportunity and achievement gaps in this state.
Recognizing this, for nearly two decades California has been a national leader in providing critical educational and enrichment opportunities for students from low-resource communities during the hours that they are not in school.
Since the After School Education and Safety (ASES) program was first launched in 1997, we have invested billions in building the systems of support, workforce and partnerships needed to support high-quality before-school, after-school and summer programming.
Nearly half a million children statewide now have a safe place to go after school while their parents are at work. Eighty-two percent of students at ASES school sites are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, and more than one in four students in our programs is an English learner.
We know from numerous studies spanning decades that these programs work. Students’ grades improve, they are more connected with their school and they have more opportunities to expand their skills and broaden their horizons beyond their schools and neighborhoods.
In Oakland alone, ASES programs serve 16,000 youth across 82 school sites through the Oakland School-Based After School Partnership, which is a collaboration between the Oakland Unified School District and the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth. They are vital to achieving the city’s goals of reducing crime, creating safer communities, increasing the number of students who graduate college- and career-ready, and breaking the egregious school-to-prison pipeline.
The minimum-wage increases, which we strongly support, are having the unintended but very real consequence of threatening the survival of many programs. For nearly a decade, these programs have operated within fixed funding levels while increases in the state minimum wage and the Consumer Price Index have risen by double digits, diminishing their ability to deliver quality programs. Unless Gov. Brown and fellow lawmakers in the Legislature commit to increased funding for ASES programs – by a mere $1 a day per student, from $7.50 to $8.50 – and approve a long overdue cost-of-living adjustment, nearly a third of these programs will likely shut down in the next two years according to a survey conducted February 2016. We cannot afford to let that happen.
This is why it is imperative that the Budget Conference Committee adopt both the Assembly and Senate versions of the program item. The Assembly recently approved an augmentation of $73 million, while the Senate approved an ongoing cost-of-living adjustment for ASES programs.
Our governor recently said of the minimum wage increase that: “It’s a matter of economic justice. It makes sense.” But isn’t preserving our investment in youth also a matter of economic justice and one that makes sense?
In a state as great as ours, we shouldn’t have to choose between a living wage for our workers and a strong education system for our children. We must do both. We must continue to level the playing field in our education system and save these threatened after-school programs.
Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, is chair of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, and the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, Public Safety and the Judiciary.
Jennifer Peck is executive director of Partnership for Children & Youth, a nonprofit that works to expand access to high-quality after-school programs and summer schools.
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