Buoyed by commitments of support from several DC Council Members and government leaders, the DC OST Coalition is gathering data and information to demonstrate the immediate need for changes to regulatory requirements that present obstacles to serving young people. Coalition members are scheduled to meet with Council Chair Phil Mendelson’s staff next week. In recent weeks, educators and students from several out-of-school-time organizations met with DC Council Members, Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, and Learn24 Director Dr. Shontia Lowe to discuss current administrative, oversight, and funding challenges and how to resolve them in order to focus on best meeting the needs of children and youth. Five youth participants from the Community Enrichment Project also shared their perspectives on the real-life impact that OST has had on them, along with some of the challenges they and their peers face with accessing programs that fit their interests.
While OST programs are valuable resources for working families and vital opportunities for young people to learn, grow, and explore their futures in a safe environment, a variety of regulatory and bureaucratic barriers are getting in the way of these organizations accomplishing their essential work.
OST providers discussed prohibitively expensive increased insurance and security costs that would divert funds that should be used to hire expert educators, provide mentoring and coaching, and pay for musical instruments, sports equipment, or art supplies. Coalition members also encouraged Council Members to support the Educator Background Check Streamlining Amendment Act of 2022, recently introduced by Council Member Christina Henderson, to eliminate the extraordinarily long and confusing background check process that is keeping volunteers and staff out of classrooms and schools where they could be working with and supporting students. Finally, representatives asked for greater transparency and coordination, including for the DC Council to convene a public roundtable to demand accountability from DC government and education agencies that support the OST sector, including OSSE, DCPS, and the Deputy Mayor of Education’s Office of Out of School Time.
Out-of-school-time organization leaders who participated in the meetings included representatives from Community Enrichment Project, DC SCORES, DC Strings Workshop, Global Kids DC, Higher Achievement, Jubilee Housing, Kid Power DC, Mentor Maryland/DC, Midtown Youth Academy, Thurgood Marshall Academy, United to Rise, and the Washington Urban Debate League.
Council Members and staff from the offices of Charles Allen, Christina Henderson, Janeese Lewis George, Elissa Silverman, and Robert White enthusiastically received OST leaders, agreeing that bureaucratic obstacles should be removed so that educators, mentors, and coaches can focus on working with young people and dedicate more funding to their programs. Deputy Mayor of Education Kihn and Dr. Lowe also expressed their willingness to find collaborative solutions to these challenges. Conversations also included the need to find ways to make the OST scholarship program more accessible to families and schools who need them the most, better share information and connect young people to the OST opportunities that fit their interests, and ensuring that OST providers can access adequate, multi-year grant funding to provide reliable, consistent programming to youth. The OST Coalition plans to present collected data and specific policy solutions in the coming days to enable DC leaders to take immediate action on these issues.