This is the question I get from the backseat on nearly every drive with my five and seven-year-old daughters.
This is also the question I’ve found myself asking over and over for the last 19+ months, as I’ve tried to hold it all together. My kids have needed me more than ever, to comfort and care for them through the added challenges of the pandemic. We are privileged to be able to shield them from the harshest effects of the pandemic. Yet, I’ve struggled to give them the time and patience that they deserve.
I’ve dreamt of the day when they could return to school, play with their friends, and even enter a grocery store without me attacking them with hand sanitizer. I promised my kids that it wouldn’t be like this forever; things would change but it will take a while.
I couldn’t map out the steps of how the pandemic would end. I could only take it a month, a week, a day at a time. I focused on the incremental changes I could see. My daughter finally got to meet her classmates in person after a year on Zoom. We let the kids go trick-or-treating this year with masks and some friends. These changes meant a lot but we still had a long way to go.
Earlier this month, during the first weekend, when kids 5-11 were eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, I was peppered with questions as we drove to our local pharmacy…
“What’s going to happen?” “How will it work?” “Are we there yet?”
I tried to answer their questions about the vaccine but I noticed that these are the same questions rattling around about expanded learning in California.
For the last 5+ years, afterschool providers across the state have tried to hold it all together. Our students and their families have needed our programs and essential (and incredible) staff more than ever. From finding missing students and helping them feel safe coming back to school to re-engaging families and providing meals, technology, and connections to health services. Afterschool programs have done everything they could to help through the challenges of the pandemic. Yet, programs have struggled for more than a decade without the funding they need to provide a quality program that all students deserve.
The afterschool field has dreamt of the day when they didn’t have to fight to keep lights on after school. They’ve dreamt of a time when they could solely focus on providing what’s best for each of their students and families. We don’t know how or when they would get there.
Afterschool providers and child advocacy organizations in California came together in 2009 to establish the California Afterschool Advocacy Alliance (CA3), to speak with a united voice to raise the quality of and access to publicly-funded afterschool programs. We’ve seen incremental changes, including the first increases in state funding for afterschool programs in a decade. These changes have helped keep the doors open but we still had a long way to go.
After years of trying to explain the importance of afterschool and summer programs to state and local decision-makers, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented level of attention and funding. The pandemic illustrated how critical these programs and their workforce are to students, their families, and their school communities.
This summer, Governor Newsom set the goal: afterschool for all.
The 2021-22 state budget provides $1.75 billion in new funding for expanded learning for the school year and included essential daily rate increases for existing expanded learning programs. The Governor committed up to $5 billion for expanded learning by 2025.
It seems like our dream is closer than ever but there are so many questions right now…
How will this new funding work? How will the state align and leverage other funding for expanded learning? Can we attract and retain enough staff to meet the demand of students and families? What more will it take to provide universal access to high-quality programs?
The quick answer to these questions is, we’re not sure. This historic investment and commitment to reach universal access in the future are huge but it will take a lot of work to get us there.
Implementation is key. What happens this year and next will have long-term implications for expanded learning and the students and families they serve. CA3 is reaching out across the state to understand the challenges and opportunities in implementation.
- We are proposing legislative action to state leaders to ensure providers have the funding, staffing, and flexibility to serve students best now and in the future.
- We want to help build the capacity of providers to work hand-in-hand with local decision-makers and their community of partners.
- We want you at the table to help shape our policy agenda and advocacy priorities, as well as have the opportunity to network and learn with other providers around the state and in your region.
We’ve also gotten word that there will be another budget surplus next year. But we are not there yet. We need to make sure that afterschool doesn’t take a back seat–to ensure that our programs are prioritized as part of the continuum of full-day learning and care for our students. To do this effectively, CA3 needs your perspective and voice. Join us!
Like I told my kids, we’re not there yet but we’re closer than ever before. We celebrate the changes/wins along the way.
It will take time and work, we can’t do it on our own, but I believe we’ll get there.
For breakfast, I had the usual, oatmeal with fruit.