Photo: Jay Dunn/The Partnership for Children & Youth (PCY)
Students rehearsing a dance routine in an expanded learning program in Fresno

As we consider reopening campuses in San Diego County and across California, schools will be relying on afterschool partners to help them pull off this massive and uncharted task.

On top of creating new visions for instruction and schedules and establishing safety protocols, we must also support students who will return having experienced extreme social disconnection, trauma and significant learning gaps. Afterschool programs are an essential partner in addressing these challenges and we need them to remain intact.

In his May Budget revision, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposes to cut afterschool funding by $100 million. When you consider the billions of dollars that must be trimmed overall, this might not seem significant on its face. However, at best, these cuts would mean more than 60,000 students in California will lose their afterschool program. At worst, this could trigger a collapse of the largest publicly funded school-age child care system in California.

Services funded through the After School Education and Safety (ASES) program are already hanging by a thread, given that California currently spends only $8.88 per child per day on these programs. And with this they perform miracles — managing year after year to improve school attendance and grades, social and emotional skills, and serve as a critical link to families.

According to the California Department of Education’s recent evaluation of the ASES program, English-language learners see some of the strongest benefits from participating in ASES programs, which is particularly critical to San Diego County, where 20.3% of our students are English learners.

In San Diego County, students and families depend on 792 before- and after-school programs in 49 districts and charter schools. That is true even now, as campuses are closed. As students’ routines were ripped away, it became clear that our expanded learning programs were perfectly aligned to leverage their existing relationships with students.

These staff have been conducting weekly check-ins with students to offer support; they stepped in to help make sure students receive nutritious meals; and they are offering a variety of virtual programming, including academic and tutoring support online, reading clubs and providing STEM kits for students to work on at home.

The positive impact of afterschool programs has been proven time and time again, but if you don’t believe the research, talk to any parent of means who spends thousands of dollars each year on things like afterschool sports, music lessons, tutoring and summer camps.

Parents make these investments because they know how critical it is for kids to have a range of opportunities that broaden their horizons, build their skills and connect them to social capital. And that’s on top of the essential peace of mind knowing our kids are safe and cared for while we work.

Our publicly funded afterschool programs provide these things to students whose families can’t afford to — and we’ve never needed them more than we do right now.

Cutting funding to afterschool programs does not make educational or economic sense. Every child that loses their afterschool program will lose 540 hours of learning time; they will lose access to their afterschool meal; they will lose connection to caring adults and their family will lose child care.

We have heard from San Diego families whose lives would be upended if they lost their child’s afterschool program — foster parents who say that without their program they would be unable to continue to foster school-age children; a single parent who would need to quit her job or work fewer hours in order to pick up her children from school; a parent whose child with learning disabilities has gained confidence through her afterschool program and is afraid of losing these gains; parents with demanding and unpredictable military jobs who would need to have one parent quit because childcare would become too expensive.

In his remarks, the governor stated that this budget must address critical needs like learning losses, social and emotional well-being and supporting families’ ability to go back to work so we can get our economy moving. Afterschool programs are designed — and proven — to support all of these priorities, and do so in an incredibly cost-efficient manner.

This is a moment to lean heavily on this incredible asset, not tear it down.

•••

Paul Gothold is the San Diego County Superintendent of Schools. Jennifer Peck is President and CEO of Partnership for Children & Youth, a nonprofit that works to expand access to effective learning supports and opportunities for underserved youth in California.

The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. Commentaries published on EdSource represent viewpoints from EdSource’s broad audience. As an independent, non-partisan organization, EdSource does not take a position on legislation or policy. We welcome guest commentaries from teachers, parents and students about how distance learning is working for them. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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  1. cynthia wimer 5 months ago5 months ago

    Just wanted to say thank you for this article! I work at our schools expanded learning program and I know that not only do the kids benefit but parents do as well! Again, thanks.

  2. Pam Brasher 5 months ago5 months ago

    Thank you for speaking up for our children and youth. Cutting back rates and expecting programs to provide the same services is ludicrous. When you add expectations to cover care for school days that will no longer be “regular” and at reduced ratios, we are now being asked to do the impossible.

  3. el 5 months ago5 months ago

    The ASES programs are incredibly valuable, and the disruption caused by dismantling them would be very expensive. Let’s keep these alive.