Credit: Alison Yin for EdSource

Stagnant state funding, rising costs and possible cutbacks in federal support are threatening the viability of California’s subsidized after-school programs, which serve 859,000 low-income students in 4,500 schools across the state.

Besides offering a safe place for children while parents are working, after-school and summer programs provide homework help, hands-on science and arts projects, field trips, sports, social-emotional support and meals. The programs are free to parents of low-income students.

The state’s After School Education and Safety program provides $550 million each year for programs for elementary and middle school students. Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants provide an additional $132 million for K-12 after-school and summer programs. The state distributes the funds to nonprofit organizations and school districts that run the programs. Some programs also receive additional support from foundations, private donors, cities or their local school district.

Although California invests more than any other state in after-school programs, the state’s program is struggling financially. Lawmakers have not increased funding for the program since its inception in 2006. During the same time, program costs rose as the minimum wage jumped from $6.75 to $10.50 an hour. Salary costs will continue to climb with ongoing increases that will drive the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2021.

The state law that created the program also limits the flexibility providers have to manage costs. Funding is based on $7.50 per pupil each day for a program that must stay open until 6 p.m. on school days and operate a minimum of 15 hours a week. Pupil-to-staff ratios must be no higher than 20 to 1.

“The big problem is trying to find qualified staff for what they can pay or to be able to retain them,” said Michael Funk, director of the Expanded Learning Division at the California Department of Education.

Many programs used to have a year-round, full-time site coordinator, who would train staff and work with the school to ensure that the after-school program was enhancing what the students were learning during the school day. Now the programs have a part-time coordinator for 180 days, he said.

“That affects quality,” Funk said.

During the past two state budget cycles, advocates have pressed legislators and the governor for an increase in state funds. Currently, they are focusing their efforts on Senate Bill 78, introduced by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, which would raise funding to $9 per pupil per day and would tie future funding increases to growth in the minimum wage.

“The big problem is trying to find qualified staff for what they can pay or to be able to retain them,” said Michael Funk, director of the Expanded Learning Division at the California Department of Education.

In the near future, many after-school programs are facing another threat – the Trump administration has proposed ending the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants. The elimination of the grants could occur as early as the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. However, the current budget deal being put forward by Congress proposes a small increase for the programs through September.

In addition to financing the programs, the federal funds support implementation of the state’s quality standards, which, like the Common Core standards, emphasize that students need to be in charge of their learning and collaborate with each other on hands-on projects and experiences. The standards also call on programs to promote physical fitness, provide nutritious meals, and embrace equity and diversity. Programs are expected to collect data on how their students are progressing socially and academically and develop plans for improvement.

“If the president’s skinny budget comes to fruition, it would be devastating,” Funk said.

Federal funds support staff at 16 county offices of education and the state who review data and identify programs that are having trouble meeting attendance goals, an indication of low quality, Funk said. The team provides coaching and mentoring and often connects a struggling program with a successful program nearby.

Funk has attended meetings with after-school organizations from other states, including states where the majority voted for Donald Trump, and the 21st Century federal grants are the only funding they have, he said.

“I would be shocked if [Trump’s proposal] would get through Congress,” Funk said. “But I would not be surprised if there was a cut.”

The Trump administration, through Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, has justified eliminating the grants, saying “there’s no demonstrable evidence” that after-school programs are “helping kids do better in school.”

Although research studies have found mixed test score results, the potential effects of participation in after-school programs “on academic attitudes, work habits and social development should not be overlooked,” noted researchers from the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, or CRESST, at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.

CREEST’s study of LA’s BEST after-school program in 2007 found the primary positive effect of the program was the prevention of juvenile crime. The researchers said that the cost savings associated with preventing crime and helping students graduate from high school and build productive lives more than paid for the program.

In an evaluation in 2011 of the programs supported by the state and federal grants, CREEST researchers found improved English and math test scores for African-American, special education and the lowest-achieving students. They also found that programs that focused on developing social and emotional skills helped build students’ future aspirations, life skills and confidence that they could succeed academically.

“It seems like people are waiting for programs to close to sound the alarms and get a sense of urgency,” said Eric Gurna, president and CEO of LA’s BEST.

Educators have touted these benefits, but that has not resulted in financial support. Both small and large after-school programs in California are struggling. A February 2016 survey of after-school providers in 250 school districts by the Oakland-based advocacy group Partnership for Children & Youth found that 29 percent of the 676 program providers who responded to the survey said they were likely to close in the next two years without an increase in funding.

One of the programs that might close is at the Powell Academy for Success in Long Beach. After-school students at Powell no longer make boomerangs from card stock, create gooey slime or do any other science experiments.

“We used to have 40 science kits, but now they’ve dwindled to two or three,” said Jacqueline Olazaba, site director for the WRAP Expanded Learning Program at the K-8 school. “For some period, we were able to buy materials because some of them are not too expensive, or modify the experiments, but now we hardly have any funds, so it’s not really worth it.”

Like other after-school programs throughout the state, funding for Powell’s program has stagnated during the past 10 years while staff salaries have risen. Olazaba spends 97 percent of her budget to pay her staff, who are district employees. “The next time the district gives staff raises, the program will have to close,” she said. “For now we can only plan for the end of this year.”

Large programs, which can rely on economies of scale and run short-term deficits to get by, are also in jeopardy of closing or having to cut back on full-time staff, reducing coordination with the school, which, directors say, is necessary to support a quality program. Four of the largest after-school programs – serving about 200,000 students – are estimating budget deficits of more than $9 million combined by 2018 if funding remains the same, said Eric Gurna, president and CEO of LA’s BEST, who surveyed three other large providers: THINK Together, After-School All-Stars and California Teaching Fellows Foundation. Gurna estimates LA’s BEST’s deficit will almost double, from $808,511 in 2017 to $1,562,187 in 2018.

“It seems like people are waiting for programs to close to sound the alarms and get a sense of urgency,” he said.

In the past, Gov. Jerry Brown has opposed any increases in state funding, saying if districts consider the program important, they can use Local Control Funding Formula funds to support it. The formula targets extra funds to low-income students, English learners and foster children, and gives districts authority on how best to use those funds to improve student achievement. So, theoretically, districts could funnel those funds to their after-school programs for low-income students.

But Jessica Gunderson, senior director, policy and communications, for the Partnership for Children & Youth, takes issue with the governor’s stance. The funding formula money for low-income students is “supposed to be used for increased or improved services, not backfilling budget gaps,” she said.

Leyva said she hopes the governor in the May Revision of his budget will reconsider his stance on funding after-school programs, particularly with the new threat from the federal government.

“When I introduced SB 78, I thought this was a good bill and important to do,” Leyva said. “Now that we hear that Trump might cut the federal funding, the urgency of the bill is heightened. I hope the governor will see what is happening in Washington and also have a sense of urgency with this bill.”

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  1. Lyndal Larkin 4 months ago4 months ago

    The funding of after-school programming is absolutely critical to the long term success of our most at-risk and at-need students. The return on investment is multifaceted as these students develop into contributing members of our local communities.

  2. Linda Harris-Forster 5 months ago5 months ago

    Families who live below the federal poverty line or suffer from liquid asset poverty cannot afford tutoring lessons, extra curricular activities, or adequate funding to follow the dietary guidelines to enhance the quality of life for their children. Youth who lack these affluent resources often find themselves marginalized in the educational system, recruited by street gangs, with little hope of completing high school, let alone a college. It is imperative that we invest … Read More

    Families who live below the federal poverty line or suffer from liquid asset poverty cannot afford tutoring lessons, extra curricular activities, or adequate funding to follow the dietary guidelines to enhance the quality of life for their children. Youth who lack these affluent resources often find themselves marginalized in the educational system, recruited by street gangs, with little hope of completing high school, let alone a college. It is imperative that we invest in our children at an early age to avoid the almost certain future crisis of substance abuse, gang violence, incarceration, mental and emotional health challenges, or a senseless death.

  3. Ann Lane 5 months ago5 months ago

    I have been working as a volunteer for L.A.'s BEST for almost 20 years. It is an astonishingly effective program that develops skills in basic subjects, provides opportunities for a wide range of enriching activities, and has proven to be effective in preparing the children for successful adolescence. L.A.'s BEST employs community staff who discover an aptitude for working with kids and leads them to enrolling in classes to become teachers. Minimum wages are mandated … Read More

    I have been working as a volunteer for L.A.’s BEST for almost 20 years. It is an astonishingly effective program that develops skills in basic subjects, provides opportunities for a wide range of enriching activities, and has proven to be effective in preparing the children for successful adolescence. L.A.’s BEST employs community staff who discover an aptitude for working with kids and leads them to enrolling in classes to become teachers.
    Minimum wages are mandated and can only be provided by cutting staff and program, unless additional funds are granted. Don’t let this extraordinary program be cut back.

  4. Mallory Maske 5 months ago5 months ago

    As a former Los Angeles inner-city public school teacher, I know firsthand that after school programs are critical. Our schools have seen heartbreaking budget cuts for enrichment (field trips, sports, drama, art, music) and the only place many children get these opportunities are during their after school program. After school programs can be the difference between a child loving and hating school. They literally save lives.

  5. June Solnit Sale 5 months ago5 months ago

    When Mayor Bradley established LA's BEST, he knew from his own experience as a past police officer, that providing after-school care for our children was an important path toward improving the lives of children, as well as a positive method to prevent childhood crime. How can we as a community. city, and state not provide education, enrichment, nutrition, and other vital services for the children who are most in need? Shame on … Read More

    When Mayor Bradley established LA’s BEST, he knew from his own experience as a past police officer, that providing after-school care for our children was an important path toward improving the lives of children, as well as a positive method to prevent childhood crime. How can we as a community. city, and state not provide education, enrichment, nutrition, and other vital services for the children who are most in need? Shame on us if we permit these programs to close!

  6. David Travers 5 months ago5 months ago

    After school programs are CRITICAL to getting Americans back to work. They create options for parents and caregivers who work, and they put kids on track to come out of school ready for great careers. The return on investment for government is astronomical, and these programs must be funded.

  7. Trudi Ferguson 5 months ago5 months ago

    Funding these programs is SO important for the development and success of our students and have such positive impacts on staff and the community.

  8. Kristen DeLeo 5 months ago5 months ago

    We have two choices; children in a safe, structured, learning environment after school or children on the streets after school. Fund schools now including after school programs so you don’t have to fund prisons later.

  9. Jonathan Raymond 5 months ago5 months ago

    Love the "alternative facts" comment from the fed. Seriously, if these folks ever stepped into a classroom or saw what a quality expanded learning program does for children they'd spin a different story. Here's the fact. High quality after school programs advance children's social and emotional skills like compassion and empathy. Go visit the after school program of a continuation school in Oakland focused on literacy and creative writing. You … Read More

    Love the “alternative facts” comment from the fed. Seriously, if these folks ever stepped into a classroom or saw what a quality expanded learning program does for children they’d spin a different story. Here’s the fact. High quality after school programs advance children’s social and emotional skills like compassion and empathy.
    Go visit the after school program of a continuation school in Oakland focused on literacy and creative writing. You might see a student sharing a story about how his dad disowned him as a child and how he struggled to overcome this. You might see the safe environment this gifted adult supporting the students had established so these young people felt comfortable sharing these deeply personal experiences with each other and guests visiting the class. You might see how this adult encouraged the other students to support this young man as he struggled to share his story – doing so with compassion and empathy.
    Can we measure all of this by a standardized test?

  10. Jennifer Peck 5 months ago5 months ago

    The article makes a lot of important points about the crisis California's publicly funded after school programs are facing. If we don't increase the daily rate this year, we will begin to see programs shut their doors to kids and families. California is mandated to spend $550 million every year for after school programs – so do we want to spread the money so thinly to the point that districts and CBOds offer substandard … Read More

    The article makes a lot of important points about the crisis California’s publicly funded after school programs are facing. If we don’t increase the daily rate this year, we will begin to see programs shut their doors to kids and families. California is mandated to spend $550 million every year for after school programs – so do we want to spread the money so thinly to the point that districts and CBOds offer substandard programs or send the money back to the state, OR do we want to make a VERY modest investment to increase the daily rate so more than half a million kids can have a safe learning environment every day? This should be a no-brainer.

  11. el 5 months ago5 months ago

    All the people who say they want longer school days and more instructional time for kids need to step up and support these ASES funded programs, which I think are incredibly valuable and important in providing kids safe and appropriate places to learn, play, and complete their homework. That they are free and available to all kids is deeply important for knitting communities together. As for the complaint that there's not evidence that kids in the … Read More

    All the people who say they want longer school days and more instructional time for kids need to step up and support these ASES funded programs, which I think are incredibly valuable and important in providing kids safe and appropriate places to learn, play, and complete their homework. That they are free and available to all kids is deeply important for knitting communities together.

    As for the complaint that there’s not evidence that kids in the program get better jobs… I have to point out that only a small number of kids who have been served by ASES are old enough to be in the job market yet. Absence of evidence is not evidence of failure, even if that was the only goal of the program. In my community, I see a program that is supporting kids and families and definitely an improvement over kids having no choice but to be home alone.

    The issue of the state legislature raising the minimum wage with no recognition for the extra costs this has imposed on school districts as well as afterschool programs and preschools is a significant one. I support concept of raising wages wholeheartedly, but we can’t pretend this isn’t impacting the services that local programs can provide. A zero COLA under these circumstances is ridiculous.