Testimony of Rachel Metz, Data and Research Manager, to the Committee on Recreation, Libraries, and Youth Affairs

February 22, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Rachel Metz
Title: Data and Research Manager, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee on Recreation, Libraries, and Youth Affairs
Type of Hearing: Oversight Hearing

Hello Chairperson White, councilmembers, and staff of the Committee on Recreation, Libraries, and Youth Affairs. Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee today by providing testimony regarding the performance of the Department of Parks and Recreation. My name is Rachel Metz, and I am the Research and Data Manager at DC Action. DC Action uses research, data, coalition building, advocacy, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

The Department of Parks and Recreation plays a huge role in the District’s complex landscape of afterschool and summer programs, collectively and colloquially known as out-of-school-time or OST programs. Thank you for your support of legislation for Universal Out-of-School Time (OST) in the District. Youth who participate in high-quality OST programs demonstrate better classroom participation and school attendance, as well as learning new skills or topics, developing emotional maturity, and expanding creative or artistic skills. Furthermore, in DC, 2 pm to 6 pm is the peak time for youth-involved crime on school days–-47% of all youth-involved crimes occur during this window, and OST programs can help keep young people from being both victims and perpetrators of crimes. In a survey of DC parents, 90% agreed that afterschool programs provide working parents with peace of mind knowing their children are safe and productively engaged while they work. 84% of parents agreed that afterschool programs help them keep their jobs. We’re so glad that, with your support, families can envision a District where all young people have access to safe, engaging activities during out-of-school time. 

To know what progress we’re making towards that goal, though, we need much more transparency about current capacity at DPR. At the most basic level, we know from the needs assessment commissioned by the Council and performed by DC Policy Center that in 2022 the District had approximately 31,000 summer program seats (across DPR, community-based organizations, schools, and the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program). It’s worth noting that the way DPR has historically reported its out- of-school-time enrollment, when it does so at all, has been a headcount across sessions, so a single child that attends four sessions in a summer is counted as an enrollment of four rather than an enrollment of one. Furthermore, we know that starting in summer 2023, DPR had millions of dollars in additional funding to expand the seats it provided. But we don’t have any kind of public report from DPR about how many new seats it created using those funds. Nor do we know how many seats it expects to be providing this summer, which can be nerve-wracking for parents currently in the midst of enrollment in the summer program lottery. 

Tracking expansion progress starts with an accurate current headcount. We implore this committee to ask DPR to answer these capacity and enrollment questions publicly. In addition, for the answer to be usable, DPR will need to omit duplicate programs in the count. For example, if the same program was running at the same location for 4 weeks and took 20 children a week, we need them to count 20 rather than 80 so that we can get a picture of how many children have a place to go for the full length of the program.

In order to fund universal OST in the District, we first require more DPR transparency. Annual oversight responses should provide a per-program or per-camp session breakdown of summer and afterschool programming costs, participant fees, and enrollment. Unfortunately, budget chapter line items such as activity code 3637 for “Out-of-School-Time Programs” are not specific enough to provide a baseline understanding of DPR services, capacity, and expansion potential.

Further, this past year DPR received funding for $3 million of grants for community-based organizations to provide OST programs. While oversight responses include a list of grantees, we also need to know how many youth are being or will be served through these grants, the programming dosage being funded, and the demographics of youth served.

Lastly, it is important for the Committee and the public to know the extent to which DPR is communicating and collaborating with other District agencies that fund and coordinate OST programming, including the Deputy Mayor for Education, OSSE, DCPS, and DCPCSB. Without strategic and consistent collaboration with these agencies about how DPR is helping meet the need for OST opportunities, it is impossible for the District to target funding and capacity in a way that is equitable and effective. We encourage the committee to ask DPR about the role it has played in interagency coordination in the OST space.

Included in my written testimony is a more complete list of questions we hope the committee will ask the director on the record and/or as a post-hearing follow-up. Answers to these questions will paint a clearer picture of our current ability to serve families looking for our-of-school-time opportunities and create a baseline for measuring the progress we’re making towards the goal of Universal Out of School Time. Thank you for your time and consideration.