After School Programs Get Funding Reprieve

Friday June 04, 2004

The lights will not go out on Berkeley after school programs this fall, though they might flicker a bit.  

All seven district schools passed over last week for prized 21st Century Community Learning Center five-year grants will get some renewed funding after all, California Department of Education After School Program Coordinator Pat Rainey told the Daily Planet Wednesday. 

Rainey said the education department planned to announce the names of additional schools slated for funding in 2004-2005 in the coming days, but noted that Longfellow Middle School, King Middle School, Leconte Elementary, Oxford Elementary, Thousand Oaks Elementary, and Berkeley Arts Magnet were on the list. 

“That is welcome news,” said Superintendent Michele Lawrence. The seven schools were among 10 that had applied for renewed funding in the 2003-2004 cycle announced last week, but only Cragmont, Rosa Parks and Washington elementary schools had received the grants. 

At $1 billion, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers are the federal government’s largest distributors of after school programs and one of the biggest contributors to Berkeley Unified’s school-based programs. New state funding rules, however, promise to diminish the size of the grants.  

Prior to this week’s announcement, Lawrence said the district had not received any indication if the other schools would be included, and had started making contingency plans to preserve its after school programs if the money had not materialized. The district had already given layoff notices to its after school employees. 

Julie Sinai, an aide to Mayor Tom Bates, said the city had offered to try to come through with emergency assistance if any of the programs were in danger of closing and that funding for the programs could be included on a proposed $2.2 million ballot initiative to fund youth services. 

As part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the federal government handed over management of the 21st Century program to the states, with strict guidance to give priority to schools labeled failing under the federal education law and with a large proportion of poor students. 

With $92 million in grant requests and only $27 million to hand out to elementary and middle schools in the 2003-2004 cycle, Rainey said the state could only fund failing schools. The three Berkeley schools that already had their funding renewed have begun “program improvement” as required under No Child Left Behind. 

Now the state has decided to use some of the $49 million it will get for 2004-2005 to fund schools that otherwise had strong applications, Rainey said. Assuming the state budget is finalized before the summer, the Berkeley schools should get their upfront funding before the start of the 2004 school year, said Rainey. 

She couldn’t provide specific allocations to Berkeley schools but said the three which received renewed funding for 2003-2004 would receive a total sum of $228,150 and the seven schools scheduled to be renewed for 2004-2005 would receive a total sum of $494,000. 

That will still be a cut for most Berkeley schools. When the federal government oversaw the program, schools could apply for their determined need, but California has opted to give smaller grants to a greater number of schools, Rainey said. 

The state has imposed maximum grants of $75,000 for elementary schools and $100,000 for middle schools, basing much of the money on daily attendance at a rate of $5 per student per day. 

Longfellow Middle School had previously received $135,000 under its grant, about one-third of the total money to fund its after school program, said Principal Rebecca Cheung. 

Parents at the school have organized fundraisers to compensate for lost federal dollars. If the school has a shortfall, Cheung said, it would likely transfer some of its discretionary site funds to the after school program at the expense of other services. 

Some of the district’s after school programs have poor attendance and that district management will consider ways to improve accountability so it doesn’t lose grant money, Superintendent Lawrence said. 

A report issued last year on the federal program found that nationwide, the community learning centers did not raise test scores and needed to be better aligned with state curriculum standards.