Cuts in after-school programs spell disaster

April 01, 2003|By M. Jane Sundius

KEEPING CHILDREN safe, happy and learning after school is vital for any community that values its young people and the hope they bring for a better future. Unfortunately for after-school programs in our area, the future is bleak.

Virtually every after-school program in Baltimore is in jeopardy because of proposed budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels. What looms is a crisis of catastrophic proportions for working parents, families and the community.

Here is some of the bad news:

Maryland's proposed 2004 budget would reduce Purchase of Care preschool and after-school vouchers for tens of thousands of low- and moderate-income families by 19 percent, from $134 million to $109 million.

The proposed state budget cuts the Maryland After-School Opportunity Fund by 50 percent, to $5 million. This fund supports 335 after-school programs for more than 19,600 children. The cutback would affect 9,500 children, 2,100 of them in Baltimore.

Budget deficits led the state to cancel a $2 million contract to support after-school programs in high-poverty areas in Baltimore. This contract enabled families to work their way out of welfare by assisting in after-school programs for their children.

The Bush administration has proposed a $400 million cut for the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which helps provide safe, supervised activities in school buildings during non-school hours. Baltimore received nearly $800,000 last year and the state received more than $10 million.

State and private foundation officials, along with advocates from the national Afterschool Alliance, estimate that Maryland needs $100 million more to meet after-school needs.

Nor is funding all that's in jeopardy. Local management boards, which organizeafter-school programs at the county level, may be eliminated.

In Baltimore, the Family League has served this function and is the linchpin of a citywide effort to improve after-school programming. The league has worked to organize $6 million in funding this year.

The threat to after-school programs is all the more tragic because these programs work. Studies show they keep children safe, reduce substance abuse and early sexual activity and improve school performance.

For every public dollar spent on such programs, taxpayers save more than $3 in the long term. That's because after-school programs divert youngsters from crime and reduce costs for child care, remedial education and welfare. They also increase students' earnings after high school, according to the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at California's Claremont McKenna College, which examined nationwide data.

Polls show Marylanders want after-school options expanded and are willing to pay higher taxes to cover the costs. Indeed, across the nation, polls show voters disagree by 2-to-1 with President Bush's decision not to increase funding for after-school programs.

Baltimore has become a national model for after-school programs. The Safe and Sound Campaign has worked with public officials, private foundations, parents, youths and providers to build after-school programming. The After-School Institute is a strong and nationally recognized training and technical assistance organization. The Family League oversees the patchwork of funding for after-school programs.

Cuts in these programs would have grave consequences.

M. Jane Sundius is program officer for the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, which supports initiatives that include inner city education and youth programs.

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