A Racially Equitable Return to In-Person Learning Requires More OST Program Funding
By Heather Lavoie and Qubilah Huddleston, DC Fiscal Policy Institute
Update: After this blog was published, new information was released about the mayor’s plan to use federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to increase investments in OST. The mayor's proposed FY22 budget includes an approximately $3.3 million increase for OST.
While the funds granted by the Biden Administration will give the OST sector a much-needed financial boost, the District must commit to raising revenue and providing long-term, sustainable local investments in OST to fully restore funding for OST to meet the needs of children and families for years to come.
Mayor Bowser’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget proposal fails to make additional investments in the Office of Out of School Time Grants and Youth (Learn24), which is housed in the Deputy for Mayor of Education’s office. The proposed budget is $13,518,000, a reduction of $152,000 over the FY 2021 budget of $13,669,000. While her budget does not directly cut out-of-school time grants, the proposed budget represents a 3% decrease over the FY 2021 approved budget due to inflation. You can view the budget document here (See page 1 for OST).
This wrong step comes at a time when students have spent more than a year isolated from their teachers, mentors, and friends. Black, brown, immigrant and low-income children—who have faced unequal health and economic losses due to the pandemic—will suffer more losses under this proposal. The Council should invest $4 million more to ensure that OST programs are better resourced to help students catch up academically and connect with friends and adult mentors to process the grief and emotional trauma they have experienced in the past year.
OST Programs Are an Essential Part of DC’s Roadmap to Reopening
DC cannot fully reopen or return to in-person learning full-time without families knowing that their children have a safe space to receive additional learning and social supports outside of the regular school day. Compared to their wealthier, white peers, many families of color and low-income families were already struggling to access free or affordable OST programs prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has only exacerbated this opportunity gap, but city leaders can reverse this by increasing funding grants for providers, allowing them to build greater capacity to serve more deserving students and families.
OST programs have always played a unique role in DC’s communities, and now is no different. During the height of the pandemic, OST programs quickly pivoted to keep providing academic and social and emotional supports to students. From offering tutoring, making space for kids to share their frustrations, or delivering devices and internet hotspots, OST programs were a lifeline for many of DC’s most vulnerable children and families. Now more than ever, District leaders must be innovative and inclusive in their recovery plans to support children’s wellbeing and boost educational outcomes.
Lack of Investment Harms DC’s Future Generation of Leaders
The Mayor’s failure to increase OST funding shortchanges low-income families who have long tried to secure a no or low-cost seat in a program for their children. The Mayor’s proposal is putting Black and Latinx children and youth at a particular disadvantage. In FY 2019, nearly 60 percent of Learn24 OST seats were located in Ward 1 and Wards 7 and 8, which have the highest Latinx and Black child populations, respectively.
OST opens youth to a world of endless possibilities, equipping them with the skills to become DC’s, and the nation’s, next leaders. For many students, OST programs are their outlet to develop healthy ways to handle conflict with their peers and receive specialized support in social-emotional development. Kid Power, Inc. provided a great example of this when they created space for youth to process racial turmoil, white supremacist violence, and political unrest through groups and one-on-one settings. Programs can also provide additional, individualized academic support that students need but can’t always get during the school day.
As the pandemic erodes families’ incomes, many of these OST opportunities will be inaccessible to children living in low-income households. Low-income families, most of whom are of color, will be left to make impossible choices between paying rent and putting food on the table and are unlikely to have extra dollars in their budget to spend on extracurricular activities. This budget season and beyond, the Mayor and DC Council have an obligation to help these families equitably access and afford OST programming.
DC Must Invest More for an Anti-Racist, Equitable Future
The demand for affordable OST programs is increasing, and this requires the Mayor and DC Council to boost investments. The Mayor and DC Council should raise revenue and provide an additional $4 million so that OST programs can keep meeting the needs of their already overburdened and under-resourced communities. Corporations and DC’s wealthiest residents have largely weathered the recession unscathed and should be asked to pay their fair share in taxes. City leaders should also maximize DC’s American Rescue Plan dollars that are earmarked for summer enrichment and afterschool to shore up local, recurring budget investments in OST.