Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The Future of Youth Development Programming- Testimony from Maggie Riden

Bill 21-865 is the Office on Youth Outcomes and Grants Establishment Act of 2016. This past Monday,
Maggie Riden, our Executive Director, and numerous other community members were at the Council of the District of Columbia. The Committee on Education held a public hearing on the Bill. Here is the testimony Maggie provided:


Thank you, Chairperson Grosso, members of the Committee on Education, and staff. My name is Maggie Riden, and I am here today on behalf of my organization, the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, a coalition of over 130 youth-serving organizations in the District. I want to start by thanking you, Chairperson Grosso, and your colleague Councilmember Nadeau for putting forward this legislative proposal. Since the DC Trust announced its dissolution six months ago, we have come a long way in a short time. We applaud the leadership of this Council in prioritizing a strong path forward for funding youth development in the District, as well as the leadership of the Deputy Mayors for Education and Health and Human Services for acting with urgency to ensure continuity of funding in FY2017, and to begin envisioning a path forward informed by best practices in other jurisdictions.

To support these efforts, DCAYA has provided historic local context on the history of this system and current challenges; as well as summarized and provided extensive research and analysis on emerging/best practice in designing youth development systems. In addition, we have also been active in collecting feedback from community-based expanded learning partners, which provide youth development services across the District to more than 8,000 children and youth. Since April, we have had numerous phone conversations and one-on- one meetings with providers, local funders and youth development experts, and have also held four well-attended member meetings on this issue. DCAYA strongly believes that the best solutions to policy and systems challenges comes from a combination of local and national research and analysis, examination of best practice, consideration of local context and robust stakeholder input. I just want to underscore that to the best extent possible, these different inputs and considerations inform our testimony today.

Knowing you’ll hear greater detail from partners, I would like to use my time to lay out a set of core guiding principles that have emerged from our engagements with this broad array of stakeholders and the importance of a dedicated, collaborative, public and private funding stream and planning process. These core values and system elements are paramount if we are to achieve equitable access to quality out of school time programs.

Guiding Principles

Local funding for community-based out-of- school time programs has declined by 60% since 2010. This has resulted in only a quarter of the locally-funded slots for community-based afterschool and summer learning that were there for kids just six years ago. In that time, we have experienced a system constantly in flux and subject to mismanagement and abuse. We must learn from our mistakes by establishing strong, accountable leadership and dedicated capacity to ensure the work of funding and scaling up youth development in the District gets done and gets done well.

  1. Strategic Planning Informed and Confirmed by Stakeholders. Perhaps the greatest opportunity this shift represents is toward what could be an adaptive, inclusive model of long-term planning that can lead to higher quality programming and equitable access for DC’s children and youth. We would be remiss not to recommend that this stakeholder body, described as a Commission in the legislation, must have the authority to approve and not merely inform strategic direction of the sector.

    While we see the opportunity to ensure that some basic initial priorities for strategic planning be expressed in the legislation; we are sensitive to ensuring the language outlining the roles of this Commission not be duplicative of the roles within the Office. We hope you’ll hear more on this later today.
  2. Expert Management and Critical Capacity Needs. There needs to be a role for a centralized, Director-level position in government who is charged with executing the strategic plan, and has the authority to pull other system leaders with decision-making power to the table to ensure genuine cross-sector coordination. Since the Director will hold significant power to affect youth development policy, DC’s expanded learning stakeholders (providers, consumers and advocates) should have significant input in the selection process and criteria for this position.

    Equally important is ensuring strong staff capacity that is cohesively managed. The Director and staff responsible for stakeholder engagement, data collection and analysis, strategic planning/annual needs assessments and grants management will need to work in lock step to ensure youth development remains the central guiding tenant to the mission and the work; and outcomes of the office and services are effectively and efficiently met.
  3. Transparency, Accountability and Oversight. The need substantiating this principle is evident, and certain steps can be enacted to ensure these tenets are met. These include public reporting requirements with regular frequency (e.g., an annual plan and annual report); management controls instituted in by-laws (fiscal accountability in how funds are spent as well as legal counsel); and, an empowered governing board. Further, because we know the responsibilities of the Office and the Commission are firmly interconnected, we see true value to ensuring that most operational elements- strategic planning, grants management, data collection and reporting and stakeholder engagement- are subject to a consistent and rigorous set of “checks and balances” including the guidance provided by the Commission; the internal oversight provided by directly reporting to the Mayor, and public oversight provided by this Council.

    We do however see value in considering out-sourcing capacity building activities. There are, structurally, a number of ways to approach this. But based on provider input and national best practice, there is value to having a delineation between a funder and an entity or individual helping identify and resolve weaknesses in a nimble and responsive way. This may not require a change to the legislation as drafted, but should be considered during next phase planning efforts.
  4. Legislative Mandate. The next iteration of an OST system in DC should be built to last. This is not to say that it should not be adaptive or equipped to evolve with changing needs. Rather, the needs for community-determined strategic planning, strong youth development. expertise, dedicated grantmaking, transparency, accountability and oversight are immutable and enduring, and should be ensured for future administrations and generations. Unlike in other jurisdictions where dedicated children's offices or cabinets exist to provide significant backbone support; for the principles laid out here to carry any heft in DC, our path forward must be grounded in legislation.

I am pleased to say that while many of the particulars need to be worked out – particularly in regards to better defining sector coordination and setting an initial agenda for strategic planning – the proposed legislation aligns with these guiding principles, and we look forward to working with this committee to adapt the proposal in accordance with feedback received from the community. I’d like to, if time permits hit on one other key theme that has emerged in the last 6 months.

The Extent and Expectations of Private Funding

The administration has quite correctly identified the ability to better leverage private funding as must-have in the next iteration of the OST system, and there is concern over whether a central youth office, internal to government, CAN solicit or WILL be attractive to private funding. We believe the Enterprise Fund described in this bill addresses the first question. Through this fund an internal to government entity will be able to accept private donations or grants. For the second question we encourage the Mayor and this Council to be mindful of two things. First, it is unrealistic to expect anyone (aside from some national funders like Wallace) will invest in anything more than discrete parts of a coordinating entity. Funders may support specific projects or activities but they will not fund the entirety of a system, nor will they take their own funds and pass these through an intermediary or central youth office.

The better questions to be asking are: To what extent are our community partners already leveraging private dollars for programming; and how can we work to create greater alignment across funding moving forward? Because despite assumptions; the private philanthropic community is already substantially out pacing local public investments.

DCAYA is presently conducting a quick survey of the 40 OST providers who are receiving roughly $2 million in local continuation funding in FY2017 through the United Way. To better understand the balance between public and private investments, we asked these providers how much funding they received from the private sector (individual donors, corporate donors and foundations) during their last fiscal year. The 20 organizations that have responded thus far report receiving nearly $15 million ($14,754,223) in private dollars. By contrast, these same 20 organizations received just over $900 thousand ($919,986) in public funding via the Trust in 2016. 3 Put another way, local providers are bringing in nearly $16 dollars for every $1 of local, public investments. While the data set needs to be further cleaned, and we hope for more responses; we feel this is a very conservative estimate given that this sample does not include many other high quality providers that receive little to no public funding for OST programming.

This demonstrates that even without a coordinated effort, our community-based providers are bringing robust resources to bear for the kids and families they serve. The opportunity here- among our local funders- is to better align and coordinate these resources and investments to understand our full investment and impact.

What’s At Stake

I want to close by reminding this committee that whatever system we put in place going forward, it must be crafted with the broader need in mind. As we consider new opportunities in the local funding landscape, we cannot forget the sobering reality that the District continues to surpass any state in its overall shortage of afterschool opportunities for our pre-K, elementary and middle school students. This school year, there are more than 40,000 students in DCPS and our public charter schools who are considered “at risk” of academic failure due to poverty. Research holds that the greatest gains from expanded learning opportunities are shown to be for these children and youth, yet by all accounts, we are serving only a fraction of them with quality programming in the out-of- school time hours, and that disparity widens in poorer parts of the city.

As we move forward, we must build a system that reflects that local reality and our local context; one that puts the opportunities and needs of our children and youth first. This is our chance to build that system; and we look forward to working with the larger community, Mayor Bowser, Deputy Mayor Niles and relevant agencies, and this council to do so.


To catch highlights from the hearing on Twitter, you can also check out this Storify

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