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Summer Budget Crunch: Call for Cuts or Creativity?

As summer rapidly approaches, more sources report that youth-employment programs aren't the only ones facing cuts this summer.

(See what I wrote a few weeks ago about pending cuts to summer employment programs for teens.)

As a result of the District of Columbia's budget deficit, the city is cutting roughly $17 million from summer school, youth-employment programs and enrichment camps, leaving 15,000 students without "structured programs" to attend, WAMU radio reported this week.

The District's summer school program was reduced from $9 million to $4 million, lowering enrollment by 75 percent, and the city's summer employment program cut from 20,000 spots to 12,000. Many of the nonprofits that typically operate summer enrichment programs with city dollars are receiving no funding at all this year. While the city is working on alternatives, such as ramping up parks and recreation programs, hosting summer movie nights, and increasing enrollment at programs that don't use the same funding sources—like the police department's summer program—many have expressed concern that summer learning loss and youth crime could be on the rise this summer when many children are idle, WAMU reports.

It seems Washington is one of several big cities in the nation undergoing the same problem. The Wall Street Journal this week reported that Detroit, Oakland, Calif., Houston, and New York are being forced to make similar cuts, which has even resulted in local public libraries eliminating or reducing their low-budget summer programs. New York, for one, will be scaling back the youth-employment program by more than 10,000 slots and cutting off 6,000 summer school teaching jobs.

Jeff Smink, vice president of policy at the National Summer Learning Association, told me this summer is shaping up to be particularly bad because many cities used up the last of their federal stimulus funds that support some of these programs and lack alternative public-funding streams to replace them, given the economy.

But still, Smink told me it's a "mixed bag," as some cities, like Pittsburgh and Chicago, still have federal funding left or have made alternative streams available for programs. Others, like New York, have been able to raise significant private dollars; the city raised roughly $2 million in private donations this year to replace some of the funding reductions to its youth-employment program.

Additionally, according to the WSJ article, New Orleans is boosting summer programming by tapping into local organizations and private funding; this year, the city's summer programs will serve 5,000 campers, up from 700 last year. And last week, Education Week ran a story that said cities like Boston and Wilmington, Del., have creatively used additional federal streams like Race to the Top, as well as private funding, to maintain and even increase funding and slots for their summer enrichment and youth-employment programs.

"Summer programs have always tended to get cut. Even when times are good, it's not easy to fund these programs," Smink said. "Philanthropy has helped put a finger in the dyke and filled the gap for some of these programs, but that funding is not really sustainable."

That said, Smink added that "there has been a growing awareness about summer learning and that it doesn't make sense to cut these programs," given summer learning loss. Next year, he said, the situation could be worse, as more cities run out of their remaining stimulus funds, but more cities could also start pursuing alternative ways to keep these programs.

The association is hosting a briefing on the role of summer learning in education policy from the early years through high school at the U.S. Capitol Visitors' Center on June 14 at 1 p.m. The briefing is sponsored by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.).

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