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Calif. Furlough Bill Would Provide Relief for Cash-Strapped After-School Programs

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A California bill could buy some time for state-funded after-school programs in dire financial straits after a $25 million increase approved by the state legislature failed to make it into the final 2015-2016 budget.

Senate Bill 645 would allow programs funded by the state's After-School Education and Safety Program (ASES) to close for up to five days during the school year in order to save money.

"It provides some flexibility for programs that are up against the wall," said Jessica Gunderson, the policy director of the Oakland-based Partnership for Children and Youth.

Had the legislature's budget proposal gone through, it would have been the after-school program's first increase since 2006, when the daily reimbursement rate was set at $7.50 per student.

Since then, as we reported on June 5 and June 11, the state minimum wage has risen from $8 per hour to $9 per hour, and is scheduled to increase by another $1 an hour on January 1, 2016.  During that same period of time, the California consumer price index increased by more than 17 percent.

Gunderson said members of the California Afterschool Coalition reviewed a number of potential cost-cutting ideas and decided that a few furlough days would have less impact on quality, staff members, and families than reducing hours and laying off employees.

But a survey conducted by the Partnership for Children and Youth found that about half the providers have already reduced staff hours and more than 60 percent have cut some staff training time. 

Rand Martin, a lobbyist for the California Afterschool Coalition, told Education Week that some programs have switched the way they pay staff, moving salaried employees to hourly employees in order to save money. 

As a result, more than 83 percent of providers reported that they're having difficulty recruiting and retaining staff.

Martin said he's especially concerned that the cutbacks will interfere with efforts by after-school providers to hire from within the inner-city neighborhoods they serve.

In a letter to the chair of the state assembly's appropriations committee, Martin wrote that these jobs, which were seen as potential entry-level positions to careers in education, are now in jeopardy because there's no job security and little investment in staff development.

"If you can't guarantee them the amount of money they're making at McDonald's, they're going to go elsewhere," he told Education Week.   

ASES has an annual budget of $550 million, which funds more than 4,000 programs that serve some 400,000 students at high-poverty elementary and middle schools.

The programs are required to operate until at least 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday, and must have at least one qualified staff member for every 20 students. 

Even if programs were to use all five furlough days, they would still only save about 2 percent of their annual budgets, said Gunderson. She said the bill, SB 645, is essentially a Band-Aid until the next legislative session when after-school advocates try again to increase the program's budget.

The state assembly's education committee unanimously approved the bill earlier this month. It's scheduled to come before the appropriations committee when lawmakers return from their summer recess in August.

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