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‘It’s really hard’ to fund extended time amid cutbacks

Outside providers can’t meet all the demands, says a nonprofit official.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Few in Philadelphia oppose the idea or doubt the potential benefits of expanded learning time.

It’s paying for afterschool and summer programs that is causing consternation in all corners.

In the District, the overriding issue is keeping schools open from 8 to 3, not what comes after. Summer offerings are at a minimum, and sports and other extracurricular activities are on the chopping block.

In the initial, doomsday version of school budgets, there is no money for afterschool sports, for instance, which this year had $7.2 million in funding.

“We are facing an extreme situation. We are cutting an enormous amount of resources and services for students, including afterschool activities like sports,” said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

“We don’t know what the priorities will be as the monies come in; we don’t know the specifics,” he said. The District’s budget plan calls for $304 million in new revenues and labor concessions that would restore at least some of these cuts.

In the final years that Ed Rendell was governor, the District had state funding streams that supported spending of $25 million-$50 million a year on afterschool and summer programs. Now that spending is down 92 percent – from its $51 million peak in 2010-11 to $4 million this year – and further cuts are planned for next year.

Even funding for school turnaround Promise Academies is zeroed out in the current school budgets. Schools in that initiative have extra funding for lengthening the school day to enhance academics.

Outside providers struggle

For afterschool programs run by community-based groups serving children in the city, funding also is thin – and has been for two or more years.

“I spend half my time making sure we have enough money,” said Elise Schiller, Pennsylvania director of EducationWorks, a regional nonprofit organization that runs more than 30 out-of-school-time (OST) programs in the city. “We haven’t received any increase per child for four years … and it’s really hard.”

The city’s commitment, spearheaded by the Department of Human Services (DHS), is evident even as the Nutter administration is being pressed to help the District make up its shortfall.

“The fact that funding for out-of-school programs hasn’t gotten cut in the past three years is a testament to the commitment of Mayor Nutter,” said Lori Shorr, the mayor’s chief education officer.

And, with purse strings tight in Harrisburg, the city has won some foundation funding, she noted.

However, two perennial backers, the William Penn Foundation and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, in recent months have stepped back from underwriting afterschool programs in favor of school-based initiatives.

With so much attention on the District’s finances, out-of-school programming may seem in danger of being pushed out of the spotlight.

Not so fast, said Nancy Peter, director of the Out-of-School Time Resource Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Funders should keep in mind the value of expanded learning in the hours from 3 to 6 p.m., she said.

“The school day is never going to be the end-all. Whether the School District is in crisis or not, afterschool programming has always offered something different,” said Peter. “You don’t want to do one or the other: You want to do both. Let’s continue to bolster afterschool.”

Cuts across the landscape

The situation in Philadelphia is not unique.

“Funding is a huge struggle” across the OST landscape, Schiller said.

Kacy Conley, who advocates for afterschool programming in Pennsylvania, said the last several years have proved difficult money-wise. “Funding sources have been reducing, not increasing their contributions,” said Conley, director of the Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool/Youth Development Network.

At the federal level, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative, which is dedicated to afterschool programs, is threatened on two fronts: One, new grants are on hold and existing grants may get pared later this year due to sequestration; and two, the Obama administration wants to divert at least some funding to in-school programs.

“We’ve been warned that the grants may be impacted,” said Schiller. Currently, the 21st Century grants are helping fund 64 afterschool programs operated in District schools by community providers, including several run by EducationWorks. Seventeen of those grants end in June, according to District data.

In recent years, the bulk of financial support for afterschool programs has flowed from five sources:

• DHS, funding afterschool and summer programs in schools and community centers for nearly 20,000 students in grades K-12;

• Other city funds, going to library and parks and recreation programs;

• The District, funding athletic, extracurricular, and summer programs;

• The state, which subsidizes child care, including afterschool care, for the working poor; and

• The federal government, distributing 21st Century, Title I, and other funds.

Nearly every category of funding shows a drop from 2008. That was just prior to the recession and during the period that then-Gov. Edward G. Rendell was bulking up spending on education-related initiatives.

Other silos of funding have also taken a hit.

The $55 million Safe and Sound initiative, a pet project of former Mayor John Street that enabled community-based afterschool programs to enroll extra students, ended soon after Mayor Nutter took office.

Rendell’s Educational Assistance Program, which at one time provided the District with more than $20 million in annual state funding for tutoring services in the summer and before, during, and after school, disappeared in Gov. Corbett’s first budget.

State child care subsidies, which totaled nearly $34 million to local providers in 2008, are now less than half that, impacting afterschool care for many children.

Deep state cuts in early education and child care spending from 2011 levels have affected low-income working parents seeking high-quality afterschool care for children in elementary grades.

“The administration – people in Harrisburg do not understand the degree that parents rely on that system to keep kids safe and in an environment where there is homework help, and enrichment, and supervision,” said Donna Cooper, executive director of the Public Citizens for Children and Youth advocacy group.

“Waiting lists are longer. Some parents are leaving the kids with the neighbor, and the kids are watching TV rather than getting homework help,” said Cooper, a former adviser to Rendell. “This afterschool support is essential to working parents.”

Legislation proposed in 2009 to improve the accessibility and quality of afterschool programs in the state got nowhere, due to the developing recession, said State Rep. Jake Wheatley (D – Allegheny), a cosponsor. And, he added, extended learning initiatives are “receiving no attention under this administration.”

No matter, he said, that “they are of primary importance in helping working families get ahead.”

The governor’s office and the state Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment on afterschool and summer programming cutbacks.

As Shorr noted, the city’s contribution to afterschool and summer programming is level at $31.5 million annually, including $25.5 million from DHS. Those funds subsidize out-of-school programs as a means of keeping at-risk children and youth out of foster care or “the delinquency side of the system,” according to Lorraine McGirt, who oversees the program for DHS.

But even DHS funding now is $15.5 million less than in 2008. Two other city departments offering programming for children and youth – Parks and Recreation and the Free Library – also suffered funding cuts in the early years of the Nutter administration.

Bright spots

Counting as good news is the emergence of a push for out-of-school initiatives and advocacy for summer and afterschool learning by national organizations and several powerhouse foundations, including the Wallace, Mott, Noyce, and Ford Foundations. (The Notebook has a grant from the Ford Foundation to do reporting on expanded learning time.)

Locally, the Lenfest Foundation has included out-of-school-time programs in its new youth development initiative.

For the hundreds of community and church-based programs, scrimping has long been standard operating procedure.

“We’re not sure what the future holds. Hopefully funding will stay the same but it probably won’t increase, given the city’s budget constraints,” said Michael Rapaport, afterschool director of the Korean Community Development Services Center, which runs three afterschool programs in Olney, with DHS paying 85 percent of operating costs.

The programs serve 140 to 150 students – a sharp drop from the 220 enrolled in 2007 at the tail end of Street’s Safe and Sound program.

“Afterschool is a safe place for kids who have both parents working or who need the extra care. They do their homework, interact with other students, work on projects,” said Rapaport. “Certainly it’s a valuable asset to the community.”

Across the city, the afterschool programs reach only a fraction of the students who might benefit, advocates said.

“Three-quarters of the programs we run K-8 are operating well over 100 percent capacity,” said EducationWorks’ Schiller. “There is simply not enough money to serve all the children who are on waiting lists. We and the other providers cannot provide enough service.”

But boosting funding seems not to be a priority at any level of government.

That should “not be a surprise,” said Schiller. “The bulk of public dollars for this go to very low-income children and certainly in Philadelphia [to] minority children, and they are not high on the public policy list. When the government has to shell out money for poor children to receive these services, it’s not a priority. And that’s penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

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