The section of California Education Code that establishes the After School Education and Safety (ASES) Program describes its purpose as follows:
“…to create incentives for establishing locally driven before and after school enrichment programs… that partner public schools and communities to provide academic and literacy support and safe, constructive alternatives for youth.”
The majority of ASES programs operate according to partnership models in which a local education agency (LEA), acting as the grantee and fiscal agent, sub-contracts with one or more community-based organizations (CBOs) or other public agencies to deliver some or all of its direct services to students after school.
While the annual $550 million ASES appropriation (Proposition 49) has remained whole despite historic losses in state revenues, it should not be inferred that California after-school providers have been spared from budget cuts.
As California’s basic education appropriation (Proposition 98) contracts as a result of the current economic crisis, increased pressure is brought to bear on after-school programs to fill the hole, both fiscally and academically.
Administrative policies that fundamentally alter the focus of after-school programs from youth-centered, experiential learning opportunities to remedial academic strategies, or that divest the community partnerships that reflect their core purpose, are cause for great concern in the California after-school community.
For example, in many school districts, reductions in funding combined with increased flexibility to spend categorical dollars in accordance with academic priorities has left ASES programs as the sole extended learning opportunity for students. Tutoring programs have been reduced or eliminated, and ASES programs’ eligibility guidelines have changed accordingly to prioritize those students that may have been previously referred to them. Selection criteria have shifted from determining a child’s “latchkey” status to assessing their academic performance, as measured by standardized test scores.
Likewise, it has become increasingly difficult for superintendents to maintain sub-contracts with local youth service organizations while simultaneously issuing pink slips to credentialed teachers and classified staff. District lay-offs have prompted labor unions to challenge the practice of outsourcing after-school activities to CBOs, and in some cases, contracts have been significantly reduced or eliminated altogether.
After-school partnerships between LEAs and CBOs, when effectively implemented, yield a product that is greater than the sum of its parts.
In the coming months, the League of California Afterschool Providers will issue a report that highlights fourteen shining examples of synergistic partnerships that have positively impacted students, families, and communities, as well as the participating agencies.
All too often, collaboration is embraced only in times of plenty, when, in truth, it is most needed in times of scarcity. Budget cuts trigger a fight or flight response, and every agency retreats to protect its core turf. Reductions in resources should, instead, necessitate strategies for increasing cost-efficiency, and to abandon the ASES partnership model can only serve to decrease our return on this public investment.
If ASES funding is effectively re-directed to simply maintain a venue for remedial education, then we will have lost our programs even if the funding remains. The rich variety of learning experiences available during the after-school hours would only be accessible to those who can afford them, and that would truly leave behind the children with the greatest needs and fewest resources.
Steven Amick is the Executive Director of the League of California Afterschool Providers and at his wife’s insistence, he enjoyed a mango and strawberry smoothie with orange juice and soy protein powder for breakfast today.
Author Profile: @steveamick