There is no doubt that afterschool programs are beneficial to students, parents, and the community. However, many programs are supported by grants and, while it has always been challenging to run an afterschool program in many areas of the country, grant-funded programs seem to struggle the most.
In 2016, more than 33,000 children and youth attended subsidized programs in Washington, D.C. alone. Overall, participation in afterschool programs has grown tremendously, increasing by 2 million children nationwide over the past five years.
Parents, in particular, welcome afterschool programming. Nearly 80% say these programs make it possible to retain their jobs and that they have peace of mind knowing their kids are supervised and safe.
Challenges for programs in this area are not insurmountable, nor are they uncommon.
The Benefits of Afterschool Programs
Study after study shows that afterschool programs are worthwhile and valuable to the students they serve. Improvements in test scores, homework completion rates, and classroom behavior are all found in communities with an active quality program.
In addition, these programs provide educational experiences not found in classrooms, from arts programming to career exposure. Crime rates during the hours of operation are typically reduced because more children and youth are supervised and have a safe space to be during out of school time.
Meeting the Best Practices for Afterschool Programs
The American Saving Foundation published a set of best practices it considers requirements for a quality afterschool program:
- Operate at least three days a week and preferably five days a week.
- Record attendance to show consistent participation of individual students.
- Offer daily homework help.
- Provide enrichment activities that focus on executive function skills, literacy, and numeracy.
A program exhibiting all these practices would be of high quality, indeed. However, performing all methods cost-effectively and consistently is often a struggle, particularly for low-income areas.
Beyond the practices above, the American Saving Foundation also recommends building a healthy outreach program to attract and retain student involvement, particularly for at-risk youth. The program should offer age-appropriate, relevant experiences with clearly defined outcomes. Also, it should measure program implementation and progress.
Types of Available Grants
The federal government provides a huge chunk of funding for school programs, including afterschool educational opportunities. The primary granting body of the federal government is the 21st Century Learning Centers initiative.
Grants from 21st CCLC are provided to individual states, which offer block grants to schools within the state.
Other grants at the federal level come from federal workforce grants, Medicaid transfers, and Title 1 and 2 programming. Local grants supplement the 21st CCLC grants and provide OST (Out of School Time) office grants. The rest of the funding for afterschool often comes from philanthropic sources and in-kind contributors. Not only do these organizations provide grant money, but they also offer donations and fund-raising opportunities and revenue.
Challenges Faced by Grant-Funded Afterschool Program
Part of the problem is that the programs are victims of their own success. As research shows the positive benefits of afterschool education, expectations increase for the success of current programs. Parents and educational executives think success should continue to grow and that every program will have the same level of success.
When a program doesn’t meet expectations, it often loses prestige as well as funding. As funding falls, fewer students are served, and eventually, the program closes down.
Another challenge is in forming stable partnerships with external evaluators of the programs. Teachers and other educators understand how the program operates and have a foundation in educational techniques. Many evaluators have no such background. Also, they may lack experience in the grant process and requirements.
Finally, every program faces the challenge of staffing capacity, data collection, and funding stability.
Unstable Funding Situation
Most recently, challenges have come from Washington, D.C., where Betsy De Vos seeks to reduce or eliminate funding for the 21st Century Learning Centers grant program. The rationale includes the perception that the program has served its original purpose or has not demonstrated effectiveness.
Unfortunately, the 21st CCLC federal program funds a significant proportion of the grant programs run by the states. Eliminating federal funding doesn’t just reduce federal expense, it eliminates a substantial amount of money states rely upon to fund their grants.
Also, local funding slows or stops during economic downturns. In some regions of the country, such as rural areas, there is no industry or partner to make up for the lack of funding. They have difficulty finding assistance, particularly when their coffers are perennially low, to begin with. When the economy recovers, the lost funding doesn't always return.
Staffing at afterschool programs comes from using teachers from schools feeding into the program and by offering secondary part-time positions to people who work full-time or are seeking employment opportunities that keep them available for family duties.
Workers are hourly employees paid to supervise and teach the students. They have no paid time to perform evaluation activities such as surveys and interviews. Without that information, program directors have no way to optimize staffing levels, space usage, or effectiveness.
Many programs fail to provide a common line of communication for staff, such as an organizational email application. As younger staffers enter the workforce, the use of text messaging is becoming an unmet expectation too.
Without data, administrators are entirely at sea. Unlike school time, evaluators have no appropriate method to collect data in the afterschool hours. And because afterschool attendance is usually voluntary, attendance is lower than in school.
Lack of data collection hits grant-funded programs particularly hard because grant providers rely on the data to determine whether to fund grants and how to deploy resources best.
Childcare Management Software Is Part of the Solution
While childcare management software doesn’t impact funding directly, it does provide a way to gather data, centralize communication, and save time and money for afterschool programs. Here are some of the benefits of management software:
- Automated processes for taking attendance relieve staff from manual attendance processes, printing and storing rosters, and collating information.
- Digital storage of data allows administrators to pull reports to support real-time decision making quickly.
- Information about participants and employees is always accessible. Prompts for needed updates are also automated, so data is always current.
- Communication between parents, teachers, and administration via email, text, and website coverage is simple and streamlined.
The advantages of the software are two-fold. First, childcare management software saves time and money by taking over repetitive tasks and freeing up teachers and administrators to perform essential work. Second, the system provides ready access to the data required to qualify for grant funding.
Grant-funded afterschool programs will always face challenges for financial assistance. Anything you can do to streamline data gathering, resource usage, and automate processes means more money available for other uses.
Contact EZChildTrack to learn more about how it can support your program.