State DOE slashes after-school funding

David Taber

181 JP students may lose out

A Massachusetts Department of Education’s (Mass. DOE) decision to cut $2 million promised for existing community-based after-school programs may leave at least 181 students in JP with nothing to do with their afternoons.

The cuts may mean the end of coordinated academic support programs at the Hyde Square Taskforce (HSTF) for students from the Curley School on Centre Street and fee increases and program cutbacks for students in Eggleston Square’s Hernandez School after-school program.

Last year, 75 students were enrolled in the Curley School program and 106 in the Hernandez School program.

Between 2000 and 2002, Boston Public Schools (BPS) secured three rounds of federal 21st Century Community Learning Collaborative (CCLC) grant funding, which runs in five-year cycles. CCLC funding is meant to fund after-school program collaborations between schools and non-profit organizations. This year, nine after-school programs, first awarded funding in the 2000-2001 school year, “rolled off” the grant program, said BPS Department of Extended Learning Time, Afterschool, and Services (DELTAS) Coordinator Dishon Mills.

Because of a reduction in the overall amount of CCLC funds allocated to the state, BPS was invited to apply for funding at 65 percent of the previous level, Mills said.

But, instead of granting the 65 percent, Mass. DOE rejected BPS’s application outright, leaving the city’s Boston Community Learning Collaborative (BCLC) short $585,000 for the 2007-2008 school year.

Ana Almeida, who coordinates the HSTF Curley School after-school program, said the cuts are particularly frustrating because they essentially defund a program it has taken the Task Force years to perfect. “It has taken five years to create something we are 95 percent satisfied with. Last year was our most successful year ever and we were looking forward to building on the program as opposed to changing things that didn’t work,” she said.

Asked repeatedly about the cuts, Mass. DOE spokesperson Heidi Guarino said the US Department of Education (US DOE) only offered Massachusetts $1.5 million to fund what they call “Exemplary Programs” grants, down from $3.5 million, under the CCLC grant program for the 2008-2009 grant cycle.

According to documents from the US DOE, Massachusetts received a total of around $14 million to fund different CCLC programs, down from around $16 million last year. In a move he described as arbitrary and inexplicable, Mills said it was Mass. DOE that decided the Exemplary Programs funding should absorb the entire cut.

Programs serving over 3,000 students across the state and over 1,000 students in Boston will be affected by the cuts, Mills said.

“There hasn’t been an answer from the DOE on why the funds were cut that really rings true for us,” Mills said.

In JP, after-school programs run by the Hyde Square Taskforce (HSTF) for the Curley School and by the Friends of The Hernandez School for The Hernandez School are facing cuts. Both schools serve students from kindergarten to eight-grade.

Paul Trunell, HSTF director of finance and development said the $80,000 provided by the CCLC grant was the sole source of funding for the academic support programs that have served 75 Curley School students. HSTF will still be offering youth programs, including the Ritmo en Accion dance program and the Paths to Careers and Colleges program, and they are applying for a separate grant from the Mass. DOE to fund the academic program, he said.

“It was unfortunate for us that we lost the BCLC grant because that was our foothold in the Curley School…At the moment (the program) is disappeared,” Trunell said.

Anita Torres, director of the after-school program at the Hernandez School, said they used the funding for instructors to lead things like dance, cooking, yoga and arts and crafts classes for the 106 students they serve in their after-school program.

Torres could not say what percentage of the program’s budget the $80,000 in grant funding represented, but they are considering cutting back on such enrichment programming and raising enrollment fees, she said.

She is unhappy with the later option, she said, because “raising fees will affect low-income families.”

After success in three rounds of grant applications and data gathered, using Mass. DOE methodology, Mills said he is at a loss as to why the Mass. DOE would suddenly decide to withhold support for the BCLC programs.

The data the BCLC collected showed students enrolled in the after-school programs attended an average of 20 more days of school than their peers and achieved higher scores math and English language arts MCAS tests. Alcohol consumption reportedly decreased from 21 percent to 12 percent among after-school enrollees in 2003.

The state Board of Education was supposed to vote to finalize the grant allocation on June 12, but postponed the vote until its July meeting, Mills said.

In the mean time, the BPS is doing everything it can to get the word out. “Right now we haven’t made much headway in trying to deal with the State DOE,” Mills said.

But they have enlisted the support of Mayor Thomas Menino, who, along with then interim BPS Superintendent Michael Contompasis, who drafted a strongly worded letter to Governor Deval Patrick describing the defunding of BCLC programs as a “crisis”. They also call on The Mass. DOE and Board of Education to “investigate the process for decisions about the 21st CCLC grant program and provide greater oversight to ensure that the most at-risk students are not needlessly deprived of vital out-of-school-time services.”

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