Afterschool and summer programs, also known as out-of-school time (OST) programs, are crucial to the growth and development of young people, and a lifeline for working families. They provide safe spaces for youth when the school day and the school year end, and allow them to explore their passions, socialize with peers, and receive needed support from trusted adults. Yet access to these programs in the District is neither universal nor equitable.
This week the DC Policy Center released a long-awaited report detailing the known capacity of subsidized OST programs and gaps in OST coverage for school year 2021-2022. This report is the most comprehensive analysis of DC’s OST landscape since 2017, and helps illustrate the incredible unmet demand for affordable, high quality programs.
At a high level, the message is clear: DC needs vastly more OST opportunities for young people across the District. A closer look reveals in even greater detail where the need is most acute – such as in historically underserved Wards 7 and 8 – and provides a blueprint for how government leaders, policymakers, and providers should focus resources on specific neighborhoods, age groups, and other key indicators of need to close gaps in participation.
While the report does not include details on what it would cost to close these gaps, it’s undeniable that the District will need to invest significant public funding in OST programs. DC Action is working on analysis that will shed light on just how much money it will take to achieve universal access. In the meantime, here are four takeaways from this report:
- More than 52,000 DC public school students could be missing out on afterschool programs.
Simply put, the need for OST far outpaces capacity. Afterschool programs currently have the capacity to serve less than half (41%) of the District’s public school students.
To achieve universal coverage for subsidized afterschool programs, DC would need to add approximately 39,500 spots in afterschool programs for children in PK3-Grade 8. We would need another 13,000 spots to meet the need for high school students. For summer, the need is even greater, with a gap of nearly 57,500 spots. Younger children in particular need more summer programs: 53,500 spots would need to be added for elementary-aged youth.
DC has made progress in closing these gaps since the last needs assessment in 2017, with the DC Policy Center estimating a 10% increase in participation since then. But the updated data shows we have a long way to go to make OST opportunities available to all our young people.
- Youth in Wards 7 and 8 are less likely to live near afterschool programs.
Structural racism deeply embedded in every facet of life in DC also impacts what afterschool opportunities a young person might find in their neighborhood. Elementary school aged youth living East of the River have fewer afterschool seats within a mile of their home than youth across the District on average. This means that youth and families in Wards 7 and 8 are competing for a limited number of spots that are close to their homes, or that parents must invest time and resources in safely transporting their children to programs outside of their neighborhood. Across the entire city, on average, each household with a public school student has 948 seats within one mile of their home. This number is highest in Ward 1 (1,502 seats within a mile of the average home), and much lower in Wards 7 and 8 (729 and 879 seats within a mile, respectively).
This isn’t to say that afterschool and summer programs are unlikely to serve youth in these Wards. In fact, Wards 7 and 8 have the highest number of OST seats in this age group relative to other wards, with 44 percent of elementary and middle school students and 43 percent of high school students residing in these wards. However, they also have the highest number of students, as well as lower housing density, meaning that there need to be more OST spots to meet the demand.
There is a clear connection between race and OST access, given that 60% of public school students who are Black live in Wards 7 and 8. The District must not only invest more resources in afterschool and summer, but must also target resources by location to achieve racial equity.
- OST program providers are constrained by funding instability and rising costs.
Difficulties obtaining adequate funding and staff were among the top challenges OST providers shared in survey responses the DC Policy Center received from 180 providers of OST programs (including 102 community-based organizations). Programs shared frustrations with delays in the timing of grants, instability of grant funding, and the need for additional funds to provide accommodations for special populations.
Like many other sectors, OST programs have experienced increased costs due to inflation. Staff salaries have increased for many providers as staffing has become more difficult – an issue that has been exacerbated by long standing delays in background checks for DCPS school partners. Providers also noted that additional funding may be needed to hire staff to work with students with special needs.
These findings underline the need for increased public funding to support the providers of afterschool and summer programs, so that more youth can access them, and youth development professionals can receive the fair compensation they deserve.
- Parents cite cost as top barrier to enrolling their children in afterschool and summer programs
For DC parents who want their children to participate in afterschool programs, but aren’t currently participating, the top reason they gave was that programs are too expensive, according to the report. Parents with lower incomes were also less likely to report being exposed to OST programs; 57% of those with household incomes under $50,000 reported being exposed to OST compared to 94% of those with household incomes between $150,000 and $200,000.
While affordability was the number one barrier, the next most common barriers parents shared were a lack of transportation options, difficulty to get into a program, and lack of easily accessible information.
This report makes clear that to meet the out-of-school time needs of students and working families, policy makers must raise and dedicate significant and recurring resources. If District leaders are serious about closing these gaps, they should begin by focusing on subsidizing free and low-cost OST programs close to where youth live and go to school, and targeting resources in neighborhoods with greater need and fewer programs. As DC leaders create a strategy toward universal access to affordable, high-quality OST, they should refer to the findings in this report along with the stories, experiences, and ideas of youth and families who have participated in OST, along with those who are missing out.