Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Path to Equity & Parity through Afterschool Access

If you are a parent of a young person who attends an after school program or the staff of an organization that partners with DCPS schools you may have already heard about the significant changes coming to out-of-school time at DCPS in 2013. While many of the changes are troubling and will negatively affect young people, today we’ll focus on the changes to the afterschool enrollment process and the unintended burdens the changes will place on low income families.

In years past, DCPS enrolled students in afterschool at each school site. Parents would identify which program they wanted their child to attend, and then worked with the DCPS afterschool site coordinator to provide all the necessary paperwork. This system was ideal for parents, albeit somewhat labor intensive for DCPS. At the time this system worked well because there were enough staff within DCPS OSTP to ensure all the paperwork was submitted correctly.

Ensuring the completion of proper documentation may not seem important, however due to recent funding cuts to local funding streams office, having proper documentation has become an absolute necessity. This is because federal reporting requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program are strict and somewhat onerous. Further, failure to meet these requirements will result in a loss of funding in future years. When local dollars were being blended with these federal funds, it was feasible for DCPS OSTP to provide the necessary paperwork and reporting functions for TANF, while also focusing on quality programming and effective community partnerships.

In the last two years, however, local funding to DCPS afterschool has all but evaporated. With the loss of local funds, DCPS also lost a significant amount of staff and infrastructure necessary to maintain federal compliance. While DCPS was able to meet the compliance threshold to sustain TANF funds last year, this compliance cost DCPS-OSTP the ability to focus on quality and to cultivate community partnerships.

So, this year, DCPS OSTP was left between a rock and a hard place. To sustain the funding stream, something had to give. Rather than organizing enrollment for afterschool expanded learning programming at individual schools, DCPS will require all parents to enroll their students for afterschool between August 14th and August 30th at just one enrollment site housed in the Logan Annex at 215 G St. NE Washington, DC 20002 (at the corner of G St. and 2nd St. NE). If a parent fails to enroll their child during this window, the student cannot participate in any afterschool programming until the parent has completed the enrollment process at the DCPS Central Office.

This change is especially disturbing given the unequal burden it places on families with little to no economic security. Think about two families each headed by a single parent with two children. One resides east of the river and receives the maximum TANF benefit but also works part-time. The second lives in Ward 1 with an annual income of $45,000 a year. The difference in both actual and opportunity cost (time, lost wages, and transportation) just to sign their children up for programming is stark.

Low Income Single Parent with Two Children residing on Naylor Road with a weekly income of: $254 (receiving TANF)
Middle Income Single Parent with Two Children residing in Columbia Heights with a weekly income of: $700
3 hours
1 hour 20 minutes
Lost Wages
$25 (assuming they can go to and from work directly with no delay)
$0 (assuming a salaried employee able to take personal time)
Transportation Costs (non-rush hour)
$7.60 (for just the parent)
$22.80 (including children)
$3.40 (for just the parent)
$10.20 (including the children)
Total Cost:
13%-19% of their weekly income
.48%-1.45% of their weekly income

While the benefits of enrollment in afterschool programming do outweigh these immediate costs in the long term, establishing a process that is more costly for economically insecure families even from the start is patently wrong. Further, the signal this process sends to many parents and community members is hardly one of educational equity.

The negative impact on families doesn't end with the financial burden of signing a student up either. While DCPS has made efforts to spread the word to parents, changing this process six weeks before the start of the year will likely negatively impact access for those students who could benefit the most from this programming.

Parents who are the least connected to their child’s school, parents who are struggling to get by day to day working multiple jobs, parents living in a shelter or couch surfing with no consistent mailing address, parents who are non-English speakers or are functionally illiterate, these are the parents who will be the most negatively affected by the changes to the enrollment system.

The solution to this issue is surprisingly straight forward. Stop funding DCPS afterschool programming solely through Federal TANF dollars. Yes, it’s that simple. With a more robust local investment, DCPS could go back to serving thousands of children and youth, could continue to meet TANF requirements in a family friendly way, while also maintaining their focus on quality programming and meaningful partnerships. That is the path to equity and parity. 

Additional Materials:
Afterschool Enrollment Flier 

Questions or concerns related to these changes, or how the enrollment period will operate should be relayed to the DCPS Office of Out of School Time Programming 202-442-5002.

Maggie Riden is the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. DCAYA is a citywide coalition that works to ensure policies, programs and practices within the District of Columbia that promote and propel youth into a productive and healthy adulthood.

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