Replacing Federal Dollars with Local Funding Is a Must for Out-of-School-Time Programs

March 26, 2024
Blog Post

The coming fiscal year will call for tough budgetary decisions from District leaders, but it’s crucial that these decisions do not come at the expense of opportunities for youth to learn, grow, and play in out-of-school time (OST) programs. In addition to protecting–and increasing for inflation–local funding for OST for FY25, DC must replace federal pandemic relief dollars that are currently supplementing local support for the OST sector. Failing to do so will cause thousands of young people to lose access to transformative opportunities after school and in the summer.

Over the past three fiscal years, the District has directed about $8 million in federal education relief dollars toward nonprofit community-based organizations (CBOs) to provide afterschool and summer programs across the District. The city is expected to spend the approximately $1.7 million that remains before the end of the current fiscal year. For FY24, federal funds account for approximately 14% of the OST Office’s grant budget.

As the District enters into a difficult budget cycle, with local revenues projected to grow at a pace slower than what’s needed to sustain current investments, expiring federal relief funds provide an extra challenge. These combined factors threaten to shrink many agency budgets — including the OST Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME). 

How DC has spent pandemic federal relief funds

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, District afterschool programs stepped in to help youth navigate new virtual learning environments, provide social and emotional support, and even help youth and families meet basic needs. When federal funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) began to flow into the District, OST programs were primed to receive and spend it on crucial programming for youth.

The table below gives a snapshot of how the OST Office has spent these dollars on OST over the past three fiscal years, based on data provided to the DC Council from the DME. A complete list of grantees who received funding for OST can be found here. 

Fiscal Year Federal Relief Funding Awarded for OST Grants Awarded to CBOs
2022 $3.4 million 21
2023 $3 million 21
2024 (expected) $3.4 million 6+

Note: In addition to the funding included here, the OST Office also administered ESSER grants for high-impact tutoring and the Safe Passage Safe Blocks program in FY22

So far in FY24, the OST Office has awarded nearly $1.7 million in ESSER funds to six nonprofit organizations to either directly provide or coordinate out-of-school-time programming, according to performance oversight responses provided by the DME to the DC Council. The Office plans to award the remaining $1.7 million of ESSER funds in the budget through Summer Strong grants, which will fund programming for summer 2024, according to a DME spokesperson.

OST grants have made up a tiny fraction of total ESSER spending in the District, with local education agencies (LEAs), which encompass DC Public Schools and DC public charter schools, receiving the vast majority of funding for school budgets ($540 million from FY19 to FY24). As of February 2024 reporting, there is a remaining $175 million in ESSER funding across LEAs, according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. LEAs have a September 2024 deadline to spend these funds, but are able to request extensions for up to 14 months. As LEAs decide how to spend their remaining ESSER funds, they should consider adding or expanding afterschool and summer program capacity, including through partnerships with CBOs.

Reaching youth who need the most support

While the ESSER dollars represent a relatively small percentage of the OST Office’s total grant budget, some of this funding has allowed OST organizations to reach previously unserved or underserved youth populations. The Petey Greene Program (PGP) received ESSER grants from the OST Office in FY23 and FY24 to serve as the coordinating entity for OST programs for incarcerated youth in the DC Jail, the Youth Services Center (YSC), and the New Beginnings Youth Development Center. The grants have allowed PGP to not only expand its tutoring program in detention facilities, but also to bring more diverse enrichment opportunities to incarcerated youth, who are less likely than their peers to have access.

During the 2022-23 school year, PGP partnered with community-based organizations to lead activities in the DC Jail and the YSC that focused on academic achievement, social-emotional development, and life skills to help them succeed upon release. Students participated in a range of activities including culinary arts, theater, creative writing, and dance. They also had the opportunity to be part of science demonstrations, such as a biology experiment that involved extracting DNA from strawberries, and a computer science project where students built holiday cards using code. Across all three centers, PGP and its partners provided these opportunities to approximately 370 youth in custody.

Surveys administered by the Office of Students in the Care of DC demonstrate the positive impact these programs have on youth, who rated sessions positively 86% of the time at YSC and 96.5% of the time at New Beginnings. In line with this data, youth expressed positive feelings (calm, happy and/or excited) at the end of the sessions in 82% of the cases at YSC and 96.5% of the time at New Beginnings. 

If the District opts not to sustain the federal investments with local funds, it’s likely that PGP would be forced to scale back the enrichment activities that have brought critical support to incarcerated youth.

“It would be really tragic if suddenly the youth were to lose access to those activities they have come to expect,” said Chiara Benetollo, executive director of the Puttkammer Center for Educational Justice and Equity at the Petey Greene Program. “Incarcerated youth are children, but they often haven’t had many opportunities in their life to be treated as children, or opportunities to explore their interests and passions. This is the big impact that afterschool programs are having on their lives.”

District organizations like the Petey Greene Program already operate on incredibly tight budgets, and must compete against one another for a limited pool of public and private funding. Additionally, the demand for OST opportunities far outstrips the supply. A 2023 report from the DC Policy Center estimated that 53,000 students could be missing out on afterschool programs and 57,000 could be missing out on summer programs. Failing to replace the ESSER funding with local dollars would further stretch the already constrained nonprofit OST sector and inevitably lead to fewer youth having access to a spot in a program. This budget cycle, the Mayor and the DC Council must invest more dollars into youth development opportunities, not reduce them.