A survey of after-school program providers found that 29 percent of respondents – including large programs such as LA’s BEST – say they are likely to close in the next two years without an increase in the daily reimbursement rate from the state.
More than 86 percent of providers said they were having trouble hiring quality staff, and two-thirds said their programs had a waiting list, according to the survey by the Oakland-based advocacy group Partnership for Children & Youth.
Each year, more than 400,000 students in over 4,000 elementary and middle schools participate in these programs, which are located primarily in high-poverty neighborhoods. The programs offer tutoring, sports and enrichment activities such as arts and science projects. They also provide a safe place for elementary and middle school children while their parents are working.
The daily reimbursement rate of $7.50 per student for three hours of programming has not changed since the After School Education and Safety Act was passed 10 years ago. The law provides $550 million each year for the programs, but does not include a cost-of-living adjustment.
Meanwhile, since 2007 the Consumer Price Index has increased by about 19 percent, the state minimum wage has grown by 33 percent and state law now requires employers to offer three days of annual sick leave.
The survey said the respondents who indicated their programs were at risk of closing were in the San Diego, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Downey, Baldwin Park and Sacramento unified school districts and the Glenn County Office of Education.
“We cannot sustain deficits at the level that we’re facing right now,” said Eric Gurna, president and CEO of LA’s BEST, which serves more than 25,000 students a day at 194 elementary schools in Los Angeles. “This fiscal year we’re projecting a deficit of over $1 million, and next year it will be $3 million.”
“We cannot sustain deficits at the level that we’re facing right now,” said Eric Gurna, president and CEO of LA’s BEST. “This fiscal year we’re projecting a deficit of over $1 million, and next year it will be $3 million.”
The costs are going up, Gurna said, primarily because of the success of the movement to increase the minimum wage. Gov. Jerry Brown just signed a bill that will raise California’s minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour by 2023. And because the funding of the program is on a per-pupil basis, programs cannot reduce costs by serving fewer students. Programs are also required to staff at a ratio of 20 students to one adult.
The impact of the minimum wage rising from $8 in 2008 to $10 today is a lower-quality program, said Steven Amick, director of policy and partnerships for THINK Together, which provides after-school programming for 40,000 students each day at 40 different school districts. But the impact of raising the minimum wage to $15 a day is closure, he said. “The math just doesn’t work on that.”
Amick applauds increasing the minimum wage, but says after-school programs are “part of the support system for these lower-income workers who can’t afford licensed child care. They can keep their jobs because our programs keep their kids safe,” he said.
The survey of 676 providers across the state, conducted in February, was released on Wednesday in time for an Assembly Education Committee hearing on Assembly Bill 2663, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, to increase funding by more than $73 million annually for the program. The bill also includes ongoing cost-of-living increases. A similar bill was introduced during the past legislative session, but did not progress after the state budget was passed with no new funding for the program.
Jessica Gunderson, policy director for the Partnership, said she is hoping the bill will be successful this year because the programs are reaching a tipping point.
“The threat is more real this year,” Gunderson said. “The programs are unsustainable.”
By letting these programs disappear, “we’re undermining the other educational investments that we’re making,” said Jessica Gunderson, policy director for the Partnership for Children & Youth.
After-school programs are crucial to closing opportunity and achievement gaps, she said, because they are open for three hours a day, 180 days a year, providing about 90 additional days of time to learn. Besides supporting after-school care, the programs provide the infrastructure for summer programs, which help prevent learning loss when children are out of school and are offered through the same providers, Gunderson said.
By letting these programs disappear, “we’re undermining the other educational investments that we’re making,” she said.
Gov. Brown has been reluctant to increase funding for the program, saying that local districts can use Local Control Funding Formula money to supplement state funding.
“Districts have the ability and flexibility to dedicate additional resources if that is one of their highest priorities,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the California Department of Finance. “To the extent that extra funding is provided to after-school programs, that reduces funding available to LCFF.”
The survey has found that only 7.5 percent of respondents have gotten additional funds from their local districts. Amick said his program has had some success in getting financial help from districts where the revenue has increased dramatically.
“They contribute a small amount, but not the amount that we need,” he said. “If we don’t have parents clamoring for after-school funding, it’s not going to rise to the top of district priorities.”
Legislators could also decide to restructure the funding and increase the per-pupil rate but leave the overall spending on the program at $550 million. Gurna is worried about that outcome.
“Then the state would have to cut thousands of after-school program slots,” he said. “There’s a real risk there.”
Providers also said in the survey that the quality of their programs is decreasing due to high staff turnover, reduced staff benefits and no extra funds for field trips and other enrichment activities for the children.
“We have had a 70 percent staff turnover rate since September, which causes inconsistency with the students and makes it difficult to have quality staff members,” one respondent said.
Amick said the quality of his program rests on having a full-time site coordinator – often a teacher with a credential – work with the school to manage the program and ensure that the after-school curriculum aligns with classroom instruction. When the funding cannot support a full-time person in that position, then the quality drops, he said.
“That’s where we’re at now,” he said. “When you jump from $10 to $15 with the minimum wage, you don’t have a coordinator. Then it is just child care. The model doesn’t work at all.”
The survey also found:
- 92 percent of respondents have been negatively affected by the stagnant funding;
- 64 percent have reduced staff hours, a 50 percent increase from a similar survey by the Partnership last year;
- 74 percent have cut back on enrichment activities.
Updated on April 7: THINK Together clarified that a survey response was inaccurate. They do not expect to have to close after-school programs within two years.