Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Local Funding for Local Opportunity: The Role & Vision of the DC Trust in Expanded Learning

The District of Columbia surpasses any state in its broad, unmet demand for afterschool and summer learning opportunities. More than 70% of our kids in grades K through 8 would participate in a program if one were available after school, compared to a national average of only 40% for all kids.*

The greatest gains from expanded learning programs are shown to be for youth who are considered at risk of academic failure due to poverty**, and in DC, that means close to 40,000 students in DC Public Schools (DCPS) and our public charter schools. Yet at last report for this school year, the DC Trust’s FY2016 budget had only allocated for 2,465 total out-of-school time (OST) program slots for youth. Alarmingly, the same report indicated that there is no current FY2016 budget allocation at all for summer learning.

With recent changes in the organization’s leadership and internal staffing structures, there has been lingering uncertainty about the DC Trust’s future as the grantmaking intermediary for local OST funding - uncertainty we strove to resolve at their recent performance hearing on February 23, 2016.

Community Providers Weigh In
The DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA) and several of our community-based partners testified at the performance oversight hearing for the DC Trust before the DC Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services. Several clear themes emerged from across partner testimonies:

  • The impact of expanded learning programs on achievement outcomes. “We’ve shown a graduation rate among our participants that is nearly twice the neighborhood average. And last year, the majority of our participants improved upon or maintained a proficient or high-performing ranking in reading (74% of participants) and math (84% of participants).” (From testimony of Robin Berkley, Executive Director of Horton’s Kids) 
  • The capacity of community partnerships to maximize resources. “Not only do we provide programming, but we bring significant funds to the table. For every dollar of local funding we receive, we raise and deploy more than two dollars of private money, bringing well over $1 million in private resources to bear on youth outcomes this year alone.” (From testimony of Josh Freedholm, Community Engagement Director of DC SCORES) 
  • The need for stable local funding intermediaries. “We have been fortunate to receive DC Trust funding for over four years to support our afterschool programs in Columbia Heights as well as segments of our Summer Institute. Only with a reliable intermediary can we be certain that our work will continue to ensure the life-changing outcomes which we have come to expect for our young people.” (From testimony of Wida Amir, Director of Global Kids, Washington DC) 
DCAYA echoed these themes, with Senior Policy Analyst Joseph Gavrilovich calling on the DC Trust to strengthen and enhance their role as the District’s out-of-school time funding agency: “We believe that DC could be a leader among cities and states in how we ensure educational resources are within reach for all kids and families, regardless of what school you attend or what ward you live in. But in alignment with our clear need to scale up our investment in expanded learning to meet the present demand, the DC Trust must work with DCPS, other Local Educational Agencies and the provider community to articulate a larger vision for afterschool and summer learning in the District.”

DC Trust Leaders Testify
Board Chair Maria Johns and Interim Executive Director Angela Jones Hackley testified at the hearing for the DC Trust, offering swift assurance that recent changes at the organization “in no way” affect their commitment to OST grantmaking, now or going into the next fiscal year.

“We want continue to do everything we do now, but better, more intentionally and with greater focus." said Ms. Johns, citing the Trust’s yearlong strategic planning process that is currently underway.

Ms. Hackley responded to the recent layoff of the grant staff, stating that the organization is looking to integrate more “efficiencies” into their work to get grants out the door in a timely fashion with the work more effectively redistributed. They emphasized that they are presently working with Deputy Mayor Brenda Donald toward ensuring the restoration of OST funding for Summer 2016, whether through a reprogramming or other means.

Responding to a question from Councilmember Brianne Nadeau about what the Trust needs from DC government to be successful as the OST intermediary, Ms. Johns said again that the out-of-school time work will continue and that quality programming will be there. She added though that “knowing the baseline allocation amount” sooner will help, concurring with the public testimony that a stronger annual investment up front will be more conducive to strategic planning than a smaller baseline that is later supplemented by mid-year reprogrammed funds.

What’s Next for OST Funding?
Ms. Hackley stated that she hopes in her new role to be able to engage with other agencies like DCPS and nonprofit OST providers to work collaboratively on outcomes and data collection, as well as to strengthen the ability of providers to diversify funding where needed. DCAYA supports these approaches, and we are pleased that the DC Trust intends to continue as the local funding agency for expanded learning in the District in FY2017 and beyond.

However, the overall scale of OST programming in the District must be addressed if we are serious about providing safe, youth friendly opportunities focused on improving outcomes and quality of life for all our children-now and in future. This will take more than simply staying the present course in the year to come. A couple thousand afterschool slots for what we know to be tens of thousands of youth who stand to benefit from quality programs illustrates the persistent and widening opportunity gap we face as a District, and signifies an unacceptable disparity in the level of services families do need and should expect from us.

The Council will hold a budget hearing for the DC Trust on April 22, 2016. In its leadership role, the DC Trust can do much to promote expanded learning community partnerships that bring access to these core opportunities to scale - if they are stably and securely funded. DCAYA strongly encourages you to join us in our #ExpandLearningDC campaign this spring, and show your support through our online petition. Your voice at council hearings and your help in advocacy efforts will go far in closing this growing opportunity gap in the District.

*According to the Afterschool Alliance, an estimated 76% of children in the District in grades K through 5 would participate in a program if one were available after school, along with 72% of children in grades 6 through 8 (compared to 40% nationally for all kids).
** Afterschool Alliance, Evaluations Backgrounder: A Summary of Formal Evaluations of Afterschool Programs’ Impact on Academics, Behavior, Safety and Family Life. January 2013.

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