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Council backs legislation to fund after-school programs

LOS ANGELES — The City Council voiced its unanimous support March 18 for a state bill that would increase funding for after-school programs, which benefit about 110,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The council voted 14-0 in favor of a resolution supporting AB 2663, which is seeking to boost funding by $73.6 million and sets future increases according to the California Consumer Price Index, though only if it would not cause a reduction in funding.

Advocates for the programs warned that without extra funding set aside for after-school programs in the state budget, as many as 50,000 students statewide could be shut out of after-school services in the next year.

The president of LA’s BEST, which provides after-school programming for about 25,000 LAUSD students, described the current funding level as “an existential threat.”

“Despite cuts and raising as much private funds as possible, we are facing a deficit of more than $1 million this school year and, without a state increase, three times that amount next year. It’s simply unsustainable,” Eric Gurna said.

H.D. Palmer, the state’s Department of Finance spokesman, said Proposition 49, which provides the funding for the program, currently allows about $550 million to be budgeted for the upcoming year for after-school programs.

LAUSD would receive about 14 percent of that amount, but should have the ability to augment that with its own funds, because districts “now have greater resources and flexibilities to redirect resources for their highest priority programs.”

Two years ago, the state gave individual school districts more flexibility in shifting previously restricted, single-use funding to other programs that are higher priority, Palmer said.

Increased revenue from the growing economy, as well as additional tax revenue for schools that are expected to come from Proposition 30, approved in 2012, should also have added to school district’s coffers, he said.

Supporters of additional funding from the state say it should come out of Proposition 98, a voter-approved measure to fund K-12 education, which they said is expected to bring in about $63 billion in the upcoming fiscal year.

The after-school funding would only make up a fraction — about one-tenth of one percent — of the Proposition 98 funds, according to Jessica Gunderson, policy director of Partnership for Children and Youth, which is part of the Save After School Education and Safety campaign pushing for the state funding boost.

City Councilman David Ryu, who authored the council resolution, called for the Legislature to pass the bill by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, and for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it.

After-school programs have been strapped for funding in recent years, which has hurt their ability to “attract and retain quality staff,” Ryu said during a rally outside City Hall after the council’s vote. This has, in turn, “resulted in reduced staffing hours, reduced professional development, the abandonment of specialized instruction and fewer spaces for children,” he said.

City Council members Nury Martinez and Bob Blumenfield, LAUSD board member George McKenna and other local elected officials joined after-school program providers at the City Hall rally.

Backers of the bill pointed to a 2002 study by UC Irvine and the California Department of Education that found after-school programs increase academic achievement, reduce disciplinary problems and have other benefits for students, especially “high-risk” pupils like English-language learners and low-performing test-takers.

The funding for the after-school programs was set up through the approval by voters in 2002 of Proposition 49. The After School Education and Safety Program began in 2006 and currently offers services to 400,000 students around the state, typically at schools where 80 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduce-cost meals.

According to Cooper’s bill, after-school program operating costs and the minimum wage have increased since 2006, when the funding started, but the daily rate per participant has remained at $7.50.

The sponsor of the bill is California After School Advocacy Alliance, or C3, which has a membership that includes after-school programs like LA’s Best, California Alliance of YMCAs, Woodcraft Rangers and others.

The group is pushing for the daily rate to go from $7.50 to $8.50 a day per participant.