In November, 2002, California citizens passed Proposition 49, which requires the Legislature to annually appropriate not less than $550 million to the California Department of Education for the After School Education and Safety (ASES) Program.
The Proposition passed with a financial trigger that delayed the release of the appropriation until the 2006/07 fiscal year. The funding has been level since that time, unlike many other programs that were decimated during the recession, but despite its protected status during the last eight years, certain factors threaten to make ASES grants unattainable to those who seek them and financially untenable for those who currently operate them.
ASES programs have achieved stable participation levels. This is a good thing for current grantees who must meet their projected program attendance targets in order to maintain full funding, but it is not so good for a school that has never before applied for ASES funding, or one that has sustained a grant reduction it would like to recoup. With a static $550 million annual appropriation, the only ASES funding available from year-to-year is the total amount voluntarily or involuntarily withdrawn from existing grantees that have failed to meet their attendance targets.
During the 2013 calendar year, ASES grantees lost just under $6.4 million of the nearly $542 million granted to elementary and middle schools across the state (less than 1.2% of the total funds available) through attendance sanctions. Stated differently, 98.8% of all ASES funds granted were “earned” in compliance with attendance regulations. The amount of ASES funding requested for the 2014/15 school year was $49.3 million, or nearly eight times the amount available.
ASES grants are made to individual schools based solely on the percentage of the student body that is eligible for meal subsidy. In the last round of grants, only schools with eligibility rates of 90% or higher received funding. Just three years ago, schools with as low as 65% eligibility were granted awards. The pot is shrinking rapidly, and schools seeking ASES funding are almost always on the outside looking in.
Nearly all ASES programs operate more than 15 hours per week. When expanded learning professionals talk about ASES programs, they tend to refer to it as a three-hour daily program. This is likely because programs are required to operate not less than 15 hours per week. But the truth is most programs operate closer to 20 hours per week. ASES programs are required to commence immediately upon school dismissal and close not earlier than 6:00pm. The vast majority of California elementary and middle schools maintain bell schedules that release students around 2:30pm, including a weekly early release day (around 1:00pm) for staff development time. That translates to a 19-hour weekly after-school schedule. The actual cost of operating an ASES program is contingent upon the school’s bell schedule, and the grant provides no fiscal mechanism for compensating those programs that run longer hours.
ASES grantees are funded based on a formula of $7.50 per student/per day, which is statutorily interpreted as $2.50 per student/per hour when applied to before-school or supplemental (non-school day) programming. ASES grants require a local match of $1 to every $3 granted by the state, and it is permissible to meet this obligation with in-kind resources, such as facility usage, snack service and administrative oversight. But if we consider ASES funding in this hourly context, the grant only pays for the first 15 hours of any given week, and the grantee covers the balance with cash contribution. That’s $10 per student/per week for a 19-hour elementary program serving 85 students per day, or $30,600 annually.
Personnel costs are on the rise. On July 1, 2014, California raised the minimum wage from $8 per hour to $9 per hour. On January 1, 2016, it will raise again by another dollar. This affects the labor costs of not only hourly workers, but also full-time professionals who must be paid at least twice the minimum wage in order to be exempt from overtime compensation. Several California cities have either passed, or are considering, local ordinances requiring even higher rates of up to $15 per hour.
This impacts ASES programs, which are statutorily capped at $112,500 for elementary schools and $150,000 for middle schools, and must maintain a student to staff supervision ratio of not more than 20:1. Current programs typically spend more than 80% of grant funding on direct service personnel expenses, leaving limited resources for materials, supplies, training and program administration.
A typical elementary school program with a full-time Site Coordinator and four part-time Program Leaders could incur up to $7,500 in additional personnel expense for every dollar the minimum wage increases. If ASES grant funding continues to remain level, programs will quickly become unsustainable without a heavy influx of funding from other sources.
Governor Brown subscribes to the “principle of subsidiarity.” Initial attempts on the part of expanded learning advocates to lobby the state government for an augmentation of the ASES appropriation were met with recommendations to seek additional local investment. During an Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance hearing earlier this year, a representative of the Department of Finance stated that to augment the Proposition 49 appropriation would be inconsistent with the Administration’s emphasis on local prioritization of education funding.
The philosophy behind the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) gives local education agencies (LEAs) the authority, within prescribed boundaries, to prioritize spending for the programs and services that best serve their communities. Therefore, any fiscal relief that ASES programs may receive to mitigate the impact of increased costs will almost certainly have to come from LEAs.
With LCFF funding increasing incrementally toward full implementation in Fiscal Year 2020/21, school districts will have greater resources and flexibility to use these funds to augment their ASES programs if they so choose. It is incumbent upon the expanded learning community to educate our local school boards and administrators about why expanding and augmenting ASES programs should be an important component of their Local Control and Accountability Plans moving forward.
Use this link to read a brief prepared by the California Afterschool Advocacy Alliance (CA3) which makes the case for why school districts should consider using LCFF funding to support expanded learning.
For breakfast this morning, I had a scrambled egg on an English muffin, a pear, and coffee.
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