As after school leaders, we are used to begging and borrowing, making a lot out of a little, and operating at beyond peak levels of productivity to make our programs the best they can be for our students and their families. We want to get the most out of our budgets and that is a good thing—but there are limits.
Our after school programs have evolved so much in the past decade. They have moved from programs that provide academic enrichment, homework support, active recreation, and clubs to even more expansive learning opportunities. We now incorporate project based learning, health and wellness activities, academic tutoring, social emotional learning, and college and career readiness support to broaden student learning opportunities. To effectively deliver these services we need highly qualified staff and we need more of them than the required 1:20 ratio would suggest.
In addition to providing more quality elements, the reality is the improved economy has increased the cost of running a quality after school program while funding has remained flat. The state minimum wage will rise to $10 hour in January 2016 (more than 30% higher than what it was when the current daily reimbursement rate was established for State after school funding), placing increasing upward pressure on wages across the board. This is a positive sign for our economy but because the funding for after school programs remains stagnant, it has put increasing strain on programs to recruit and maintain qualified staff.
According to a 2009 study by the Wallace Foundation (already outdated based on recent economic improvements), the cost to run an out-of-school-time program during the school year ranged from $14-$31 per student slot. This is in stark opposition to the funding, when you consider funding provided through ASES and 21st Century is just $7.50 per student slot. This disparity has only continued to grow, requiring more and more matching funding or necessitating cuts in programming.
Not only do we need to increase wages to recruit and retain high quality staff, we must also increase professional development to continue offering experiences that expand learning and open opportunities for our students.
We need multiple strategies to maintain high quality expanded learning programs, but we can begin by increasing ASES/21st Century funding to keep pace with the increased cost of living and pressure on wages.
What can we do? We need to continue to tell our story to legislators, local leaders, our school district partners, parents, and other stakeholders. The Partnership for Children and Youth also has a survey where I encourage you to weigh in on this issue.
This morning I enjoyed a grapefruit, a cranberry orange mini-scone, and a cup of coffee.