At my house in the mornings I can usually talk my five-year-old son into going outside and fetching the paper from the drive while I prepare a few bowls of cold cereal and pour two cups of hot coffee. Usually I enjoy reading the headlines and filling my head while I fill my tummy, but I have to admit that lately it has been frustrating to read about the school budget cuts here in Austin.
Hundreds of educators have lost their jobs and multiple school sites being considered for closure.
With limited state funding here in Texas and decreased property values resulting in lower property taxes, school districts simply cannot meet their payrolls. While heart wrenching to read about in the paper, I cannot imagine what it must be like to experience first-hand. It also raises serious concerns. How will students achieve success with larger class sizes? How will teachers deal with increased duties and less pay? How much wider are we making the existing achievement gap? I hope that afterschool programs fare better in this nasty budget cycle, but I’m guessing many of you reading this blog may be wondering yourself how you will keep your programs fully staffed this year.
As the hatchets swing down on afterschool and education budgets one hopes that the cleaving process will be modest. Chances are they will not be. There is also a growing sense among some policy makers that these tough economic times create a Darwinism effect in a social sector they feel is already crowded, clearing out the weak so that the strong and effective can survive. The result is that there is not a lot of sympathy for individual programs. Policy makers want to support what works, but too often afterschool programs cannot show quantifiable results (Not inputs. Sorry). As a friend of mine likes to say, too often afterschool programs suffer from terminal modesty. The emphasis here is in on the word terminal. In the pursuit of funding, service providers need to shift gears and get sophisticated about demonstrating their effectiveness or they may get axed. But, this shift is easier said than done.
Even programs who have been around for a while may not be prepared to meet the “what works’ standard.
Some of the people I have had conversations with say they only want to invest in the children and not in overhead or training for their staff. This is short-sighted. It is like putting gas in a car with no attention to the air in the tires. You can have a wonderful engine, but if you can’t move it around you are definitely missing the point. Afterschool leaders should care as much about sustainability as they do their programs so they can ultimately serve more children and be more effective. Before someone calls you right before they head into a budget meeting asking you to justify the existence of your program, my advice is to invest in your ability to measure your impact and results. Don’t continue to suffer from terminal modesty. Get some tires that will keep you rolling.
When I ask my son to grab the paper in a few months, I hope I am reading about major funding heading to the afterschool sector aimed at what works. With all the cuts in K-12 education, we certainly will have more kids than ever that need it.
Breakfast: Cheerios, coffee and snuck a chocolate chip cookie!
Author: Richard Wells