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California Legislators Seek Compromise on Increase for After-School Grant

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The California senate and assembly are about as far apart as they could be on increasing the budget for the state After-School Education and Safety program, or ASES.

Assembly members proposed adding $50 million to the budget; senators, so far, have added zero. That could change any day during conference committee meetings with leaders of the two legislative bodies.  They only have a little more than a week to reconcile their differences. July 15 is the constitutional deadline to approve a state budget.  

California is one of a handful of states with its own after-school grant program. California voters created ASES in 2002, when they passed Proposition 49, a state ballot initiative backed by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a year before he was elected governor in a recall election.  

Funding for the program hasn't increased since 2006, when the daily reimbursement rate was set at $7.50 per student. That compares with an average daily cost of between $21 and $24 per student, according to a 2009 report commissioned by the Wallace Foundation.

Advocates also point out that the California Consumer Price Index grew by more than 17 percent since 2006, and the state minimum wage rose from $8 per hour to $9 per hour. It's scheduled to reach $10 an hour effective January 1, 2016.  

The California Afterschool Advocacy Alliance described the funding disconnect "as the most pressing policy issue for the field," according to a March 2015 memo written by Jessica Gunderson, policy director of the Oakland-based Partnership for Children and Youth, which is a member of the alliance. "If left unaddressed, this challenge would undermine the last decade of nationally recognized efforts to build a system of high-quality expanded learning programs to serve low-income youth and families and close the opportunity gap." 

With a total annual budget of $550 million, ASES provides funding for 4,170 after-school programs serving more than 400,000 elementary and middle school students.  Most of the programs are at schools where more than 80 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price meals.

But the funding isn't stretching far enough anymore.  Eighty-nine percent of ASES programs said the funding formula is hurting their programs, according to an online survey of after-school providers conducted by the Partnership for Children and Youth.  More than 83 percent said they're finding it harder to retain and recruit qualified staff.

"Results from exit interviews show that [staff] leave due to limited hours and low wages;" wrote one survey respondent. "They are simply unable to earn a living wage."

Three-quarters of the nearly 600 providers that responded to the survey said they can't maintain the same level of programming and have had to cut back on enrichment activities. And waiting lists are getting longer, some averaging 100 students at a time.

"Relationships with parents and program/school staff have become strained due to the increasing demand for more slots," wrote another provider.

State Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia submitted the request to increase funding. Garcia, a Democrat whose district borders Mexico to the south and Arizona to the east, said it's more important than ever to protect these programs because they give low-income students an opportunity to participate in STEM classes, especially in tech fields. 

It's also a personal issue for Garcia who said after-school programs not only offered him academic help, but also kept him off the streets by giving him a safe place to go after school while his parents were working.

He is also one of 24 state legislators who signed a letter to the speaker of the assembly and the president pro tempore of the Senate urging them to approve the increase and to establish an annual cost-of-living adjustment. Currently, there is no legal authority to provide a COLA, said Gunderson.

Gunderson told Education Week she's also concerned that the programs are threatened with being watered down at a time when the after-school field is pushing for higher-quality standards.

"If you're going to make an investment, make it meaningful," she said.

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