Testimony of Ryllie Danylko, Policy Analyst, DC Action before the Committee of the Whole

June 3, 2021
Person Testifying: Ryllie Danylko
Title: Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee of the Whole
Type of Hearing: Budget Hearing on Education Public Witnesses

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today. My name is Ryllie Danylko. I am a policy analyst at DC Action, which uses research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. Through the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition, we organize young people, their families, and the community organizations they rely on. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

I am here to testify about the importance of OST and restoring funding for these programs with  long-term, sustainable local dollars. The coalition appreciates that the Mayor’s proposed budget effectively holds OST harmless, and applauds the federal support that will help us meet the demand for these programs. The mayor’s proposed budget includes an approximately $3.3 million infusion of federal money into OST. While the funds granted by the Biden administration help put us on track to restore full funding for OST, they are just a start, and we will need to invest more over time, and do so using local dollars to get us to where we need to be.

There is real need and demand for this funding. For every student enrolled in an OST program, one more is waiting to get in, according to the Afterschool Alliance. Funding for OST peaked in FY2008 at $22 million. If that funding had kept pace with inflation, it would be $28 million today, roughly double the current budget. The overwhelming majority of youth these programs serve are Black and brown. We must restore funding for OST to ensure all families have access to the opportunities and programs they want and deserve.

We need to support working families and youth. Families have relied on OST programs throughout the pandemic, describing them to us as “invaluable,” a “lifesaver,” “a safe space for students to process stressful situations,” helpful for mental health, and a space for “keeping [students] socially connected, hopeful, grounded, and purposeful.” They play and will continue to play an important role in helping young people heal from the loss and trauma they and their communities have experienced during the pandemic so they can thrive inside and outside the classroom.

For working families, this is particularly important as young people begin to return to the classroom. Families who work need to know that their children have a safe place to learn and grow while they are working to make ends meet. A recent poll by the Afterschool Alliance found that 84% of parents with a child in an OST program agree that the program helps them keep their job or work more hours and 90% of parents overall agree that programs provide working parents peace of mind.

In addition, funding can be used to provide stipends to older youth who may not be able to attend OST programs because they need to work during out-of-school hours. Students in low-income households should not have to miss out on the enriching activities that OST programs offer, and providing a stipend for them to attend an OST program is a solution that opens up these opportunities while not sacrificing the financial stability of their families.

OST helps meet the social-emotional needs of young people. We need to fund initiatives like OST that promote student re-engagement and help students feel safe and ready to learn. We know that in order for schools to successfully get students back on track, they will need to be innovative and expansive in how they reconnect with and welcome students back after a year of disrupted and distance learning. The District and LEAs should target investments in trauma-informed care training for educators, mentorship programs, out-of-school time programs, and other resources that can help students re-engage, rebuild relationships with trusted adults in their schools and communities, and renew their curiosity for learning.

Programs need more resources in light of the pandemic’s impact. While funding in recent years for OST has decreased, need and cost have risen. OST programs stepped up and continued to do the work during the pandemic, but funding challenges meant that many had to lay off or furlough staff. According to a recent survey, of over 50 OST programs, 41% of respondents reported that they either laid off staff, furloughed staff, or reduced staff hours due to COVID-19. With new staffing ratios, and a need to prepare for COVID-safe learning environments in the future, programs need increased funding for capacity building to meet the needs of families, as well as prevent a drop in the number of students they were serving before the pandemic.

It’s time to restore funding. Funding for out-of-school time peaked in FY2008 when the District allocated nearly $21 million for these programs. Just two years later, in FY2010, funding decreased dramatically to $10.6 million and while it has slowly increased since then, we are still far from providing the resources programs need to meet the demand for quality, out-of-school time programming. Last year, the District allocated roughly $13.7 million for OST and while we were happy to see these important programs held relatively harmless during a particularly difficult budget, this was still a step backwards.

We want to see OST included in our efforts to build back better, which is why we are asking you to not only protect current funding for OST but to begin to restore it to the levels before cuts were made. To help put us on the road to fully restoring funding for OST, we asked that $18 million be allocated for Learn24. Thanks to ARP funds, the proposed budget helps get us within reach of that goal. This is a step in the right direction, but we need your support to ensure these investments continue to grow, until we can meet the OST needs of all young people, by raising new revenue to ensure we have the local funds we need to sustain and increase funding. We also ask for protection of $175,000 for OST programs through the Commission on the Arts and Humanities – Arts Learning, and $11 million to OST programs through the Department of Parks and Recreation

DC parents value OST programs and the experiences they offer their children. A recent poll by the Afterschool Alliance found that District parents report high levels of satisfaction with their child’s afterschool program. 95% report overall satisfaction, but some families still report difficulty finding the right afterschool program for their child. 70% of families who didn’t enroll their child in OST said it difficult to find an appropriate option, underscoring the need for more, and more accessible, afterschool programming with many identifying barriers such as a lack of safe transportation to get children to and from programs, the high cost of programs, limited hours of programs, and even a lack of available programs. All of this highlights the need to invest more in OST so that the families that want and need access to these programs can do so. Nearly 90% of District parents are in favor of public funding for afterschool programs, according to the poll. Clearly parents see the value in OST and support public dollars going toward these activities that help their kids continue to learn and grow after the traditional school day ends.

Expanding access to OST through increased investments is a matter of racial equity. Public research shows well-structured environments where children can explore their individual interests and capabilities can serve as important opportunities for them to develop confidence, self-efficacy, and a sense of belonging in peer groups. For students of color, who often face bias and discrimination as they navigate the world, building this sense of community and safety is essential to their success in school and in life. Yet studies show that there are not enough OST opportunities for every young person in DC who wants one. And 70% of DC families whose children were not enrolled in a summer program said they would have enrolled their child if a program was available. Local dollars are a key funding source for OST programs that serve Black and brown children; 79% of children enrolled in programs that receive local funding in 2019 were Black, and 17% were Latinx. By increasing investments in OST, the District will ensure that more Black and brown youth can have access to the programs that they want and deserve.

Ensure implementation of Nonprofit Fair Compensation Act: Since the Nonprofit Fair Compensation Act was passed in 2020 and became law in 2021, agency directors must be prepared to implement the law by October 1, ensuring that relevant staff have been trained in the new requirements. Agencies must fund implementation of indirect cost requirements of the law, without reducing services. We ask Councilmembers, as you are reviewing these budgets, to please ensure this Act can be implemented according to the law.

Every young person deserves access to an OST program that helps them learn, grow, and reach their potential, but unfortunately the District has made budget choices that don’t allow us to meet this need. We do not yet know what long-term impacts the pandemic will have on young people, but we do know that the experiences and relationships students find at OST programs will be key to their recovery. Many of the proposed ideas for using the federal funds, including an OST scholarship program for students at risk of leaving school, and the expansion of OST programs to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, show promise to fulfill that mission. However, ensuring the longevity and effectiveness of these and other OST initiatives will require the District to commit to long-term local funding increases once the federal funding runs out.