Well, it’s that time of year when budget negotiations begin to heat up in Sacramento, and once again, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) is recommending that voters be given the opportunity to amend or repeal Proposition 49.
The problem with Prop 49, they say, is its inflexibility.
The initiative, which was passed by a 56% majority in November of 2002, guarantees an annual $550 million General Fund appropriation to operate the After School Education and Safety (ASES) program. The funding can’t be reduced or used for any other purpose without the consent of voters.
This irritates legislators because it’s a pot of money they can’t touch, and it frustrates superintendents who have been given greater latitude in spending their categorical funding and who may not consider after-school programs a priority. The fact that after-school funding remains untouchable, when virtually every other education program is being cut, paints a big, red bull’s-eye on our line item in the budget.
Governor Schwarzenegger, who blocked a previous attempt to put 49 back on the ballot, will be terming out in January. Fiscal Year 2010/11 will be the last budget that will be enacted on his watch. For that reason, after-school advocates are currently working on a four-pronged strategy intended to strengthen our position within the K-12 education system.
This first and most important element of the strategy is messaging.
It is critical to promote the recognition of after-school programs as an essential part of student success. We need to be perceived as a vital organ, rather than an appendage, of the educational body. Our message will be derived from empirical and anecdotal evidence collected from researchers and practitioners that illustrates the academic, social and economic benefits of after-school programs.
The second component is legislative advocacy, both at the district level and in Sacramento. Influential local champions must be identified to carry our message as constituents, and after-school programs that demonstrate exemplary practices should be showcased in their communities. At the Capitol, lobbying efforts will be directed at legislators in key leadership positions, and advocates will attempt to get after-school on the agendas of gubernatorial and superintendent candidates.
A third crucial component is to identify and enlist the support of allies within the education community. Superintendents, administrators and school board members with leadership roles in statewide education advocacy associations must be targeted for outreach. The greatest threat to after-school programs is not the repeal of Proposition 49, but rather the potential fundamental changes that could be implemented without requiring voter approval. For example, a bill could be introduced to permit local education agencies to use their ASES funds to provide an additional 60 minutes of instruction for low performing students, and it could conceivably be deemed to further the purposes of Proposition 49.
Finally, public relations efforts need to be calibrated. After-school providers across the state need to be promoting a consistent brand, supported by resonant talking points. Print materials, as well as templates for op-eds and letters to editors need to be developed and distributed to leaders in the field. Story placements should be aggressively pursued and media spokespersons should be identified at the state and local level.
So, you may be asking yourself, “What can I do to help?” Well, I can think of at least five things.
1. First and foremost, operate the highest quality program possible. Advocacy efforts don’t mean much if our programs don’t reflect our rhetoric.
2. Contribute one statistic and one story to help build a messaging campaign. What is one measurable outcome and one success story you want to share with the public?
3. Cultivate local champions for our movement. You know who your fans are. Think about identifying administrators, elected officials, business leaders, and parents who could be part of a statewide cadre of influential after-school advocates.
4. Relay important policy news to your participating families. Remember that the future of Proposition 49 is ultimately in the hands of the voters. Keep yourself informed.
5. Be an after-school advocate. Act locally to promote the benefits of after-school programs, and join statewide and national advocacy events, like the California School-Age Consortium’s Afterschool Challenge.
Proposition 49 will continue to face legislative and administrative challenges, particularly during periods of economic recession.
We must, collectively, fight the perception that after-school programs are something Californians can no longer afford, and instead promote the message that after-school programs are something Californians cannot afford to lose.
So what did I have for breakfast today? I had a cup of coffee and a piece of whole wheat toast. I was on an early (east coast) conference call, and my two-year-old was already awake, so I had to eat it in the garage.
Author Profile: @steveamick