The DC Out-of-School-Time Coalition has been leading efforts to eliminate extraordinary obstacles that make it difficult for out-of-school-time organizations to do what they do best–provide safe, fun, enriching opportunities for young people.
Yesterday the DC Policy Center released some preliminary findings of a needs assessment of OST in DC. Many of the issues facing providers in these findings mirror those that this coalition has been highlighting for months – including a broken background check system for staff and volunteers, concerns around sustainable public funding, and challenges with school partnerships. Also included are important perspectives from parents about the barriers they face with accessing affordable, high-quality OST for their children, including cost, transportation, proximity of desirable programs, and a lack of information.
While we eagerly await the full report, the Coalition emphasizes the immediate need for the DC Council to hold a public roundtable where all of these issues can be addressed with collaboration among the District’s education agencies. In addition, in order to resolve challenges in a timely, effective, and efficient manner in the future, the Coalition is asking Chairman Mendelson to create a Committee on Education that is focused on improving educational outcomes for our young people, including through expanded access to OST programs.
This fall the Coalition engaged in a series of meetings with DC Councilmembers and their staffs, including representatives in the offices of Chairman Phil Mendelson, Councilmembers Robert White, Charles Allen, Janeese Lewis George, Christina Henderson, and Elissa Silverman; as well as Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn and Learn24 Director Dr. Shontia Lowe. We appreciate the time and attention of these leaders and their recognition of the importance of a strong OST sector. We are sharing this reminder of the key issues we are working to address and the status of each discussion.
The Coalition is asking the Committee of the Whole to hold a public roundtable on OST as soon as possible to call OSSE, DCPS, and the Deputy Mayor of Education’s Office of Out of School Time to account and requesting that they work together on behalf of our young people. In order to resolve issues like these in a timely, effective, and efficient manner in the future, the Coalition is asking Chairman Mendelson to create a Committee on Education that is focused on improving outcomes for our young people.
Background Checks for OST Staff and Volunteers
The background check process for OST staff and volunteers (which is the same process that DCPS staff must go through) is not functional, forcing OST providers to cut back or eliminate programs and program sites because qualified staff and volunteers are waiting months for clearance. We urge councilmembers and agency leaders to work together to ensure coordination, consistency, and transparency in the background check process, and create clear accountability for managing the process effectively and efficiently and ensuring prompt communication with applicants.
Progress has been made on the problem of extremely lengthy background checks, including the recent introduction of the Educator Background Check Streamlining Amendment Act of 2022, which Council voted to pass at a December 6 legislative meeting. However, many coalition members who have been facing these long delays for almost two years strongly believe that the root of the problem goes beyond what the bill addresses. The combination of government agencies and external vendors involved in the process has led to a lack of coordination and accountability for delayed applications, and calls for an updated system that allows applicants to track the progress of each piece of their application.
What’s next: The Coalition awaits approval and implementation of the Educator Background Check Streamlining Amendment Act of 2022 and ensuring that the background check process becomes more efficient so OST organizations can more effectively recruit staff and volunteers to work with their young people. In addition to this bill, the Coalition urges the Council to meet with DC Public Schools and the office of the Deputy Mayor for Education to examine the systemic problems in the current background check process, work together to solve these problems, and create a means of accountability for applicants engaging in the process.
OST Program Insurance Requirements
At the suggestion of several councilmembers, the Coalition has gone directly to the DC Office of Risk Management (ORM) to protest the excessively costly insurance requirements that have been imposed on OST programs. New requirements have forced programs to seek high amounts of insurance coverage that do not necessarily relate to a given organization’s activities or size. For example, programs were asked to buy insurance to cover motor vehicle accidents even if none of their participants ever ride in a car to, from, or during program activities. Other organizations noted that their coverage had to include liability for athletic events, even though their activities were all held in classrooms. Many OST providers reported that their previous insurance brokers refused to provide the requested coverage because it was unnecessary and disproportionate to the organizations’ activities and actual risk. During a Coalition meeting with the Deputy Mayor for Education, DME Kihn promised to reach out to ORM about the issue.
What’s next: The director of the DC Office of Risk Management accepted the coalition’s invitation for a meeting to discuss these insurance requirements. Members are eager to meet with ORM as soon as ORM provides a meeting date.
DCPS Security Costs
In late summer 2022, DCPS announced that OST programs would be required to pay the costs of school security for the hours that their activities were happening in school buildings. Previously, DCPS has covered these costs, which is reasonable given that most schools have their own activities in the building after school hours and security personnel are already on duty and already getting paid. Adding redundant fees for existing security guards is unnecessary and would put serious strain on the already stretched budgets of OST organizations. After initial pushback from the OST community, DCPS agreed to postpone this requirement until the 2023-2024 school year, but the circumstances around and costs of security will not change between now and then. The DC OST Coalition is calling on DCPS to reverse its decision and enable OST partners that are providing safe, fun, enriching programming to DCPS students for free to continue to do so without the burden of paying for security that’s already in place. The Coalition has communicated this to DCPS and has asked councilmembers to reinforce this position with Chancellor Ferebee and ensure this issue is resolved.
What’s next: The Coalition is planning to raise this issue with the Committee of the Whole during upcoming performance oversight hearings.
OST Funding, Transparency, and Accountability
While the Coalition successfully advocated to the DC Council for increased funding for the OST sector in the previous budget cycle, it is not clear that those dollars have been made available to OST organizations or been used to serve more young people. In the last fiscal year, $1 million in funding that was earmarked for OST was swept from the budget and repurposed for other education expenses. This problem is exacerbated by OSSE’s recent decision to not release a federal grant application for the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program this year. As a result of this unexpected move, organizations lost funding to serve more than 1,500 youth and were forced to scramble to make up for funds they expected to receive. Meanwhile, many programs have waitlists for youth who they would gladly serve if they had additional funding.
What’s next: The Coalition is waiting to hear from Chairman Mendelson’s office when he will commit to holding a public roundtable. This needs to happen as soon as possible. Waiting until after this budget season ends will simply be too late.