Testimony of Ryllie Danylko Policy Analyst, DC Action

June 7, 2023
Testimony
Person Testifying: Ryllie Danylko
Title: Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Chairman Mendelson

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson, and members of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for holding this important hearing on out-of-school time issues and the OST Inclusion Bill, and thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Ryllie Danylko. I am a policy analyst at DC Action, home of the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition, a collective of more than 70 OST providers and youth advocates dedicated to expanding OST access for DC youth and families.

To start, I would like to acknowledge and celebrate the progress that the District has made in recent years toward investing more resources into afterschool and summer programs. According to the DC Policy Center, between 2017 and 2022 the District added 3,050 subsidized afterschool spots and 16,477 subsidized summer spots for young people. In that same time period, local funding for the OST Office (the main local funding stream for OST) grew from around $5 million in Fiscal Year 2017 to about $18.4 million in Fiscal Year 2022. This hard-fought progress has taught important lessons to OST program leaders and staff, parents, youth advocates, policymakers, and government officials about just how crucial OST programs are for our young people’s growth, development, safety, education, and well-being. And what it will take for the District to build a thriving, equitable, universal OST system.

For the remainder of my testimony, I’d like to share some recommendations for how DC can — and why it must – build this system in the near future. These recommendations are based on data and research, including from the DC Policy Center’s 2023 OST needs assessment, expertise from OST providers (both large and grassroots, community based organizations), best practices from other cities and states who are working toward a similar goal, and most importantly, the needs of the District’s families and youth.

1) The District must create a plan to fully fund afterschool and summer programs in DC, starting with more significant investments in Fiscal Year 2025.

NEw data make it clear just how far DC is from being able to provide access to free, high quality afterschool and summer programs to all DC public and public charter school students. According to the latest needs assessment, DC is short approximately 52,000 afterschool spots and 57,000 summer program spots programs to allow every public and public charter school student to participate. Currently, there are only enough afterschool program seats for around 36,500 youth and summer program seats for just 31,000 youth. Universal afterschool coverage alone – excluding summer – would require approximately $92 million in additional funding (using a per-student cost of $1,750) and cross-agency commitments to building systems and structures necessary for this type of large-scale expansion.

The OST Office has started building a foundation for universal afterschool, through its ongoing strategic planning for 2023-26. However, the plan will only be successful if there are sufficient public funds to support its implementation – funding for multi-year grants for nonprofit youth development organizations, for the growth and sustainability of a strong youth development workforce, for transportation solutions to ensure safe travel to and from programs, and for resources to support the participation of youth with disabilities and special needs. The 2023 OST needs assessment, along with ongoing engagement with youth and families, should guide the development of this funding plan, and should center racial equity. For example, the needs assessment shows that elementary-aged youth in Wards 7 and 8 have fewer afterschool seats within a mile of their home than youth across the District on average. This means that youth and families in Wards 7 and 8 are competing for a limited number of spots that are close to their homes, or that parents must invest time and resources in safely transporting their children to programs outside of their neighborhood. This mirrors the many anecdotes that parents have shared during recent budget and oversight hearings about the difficulty of finding an OST spot for their children.

2) Universal OST must be inclusive of youth with disabilities and special needs. The OST Office must dedicate resources toward this aim, starting in FY24.

Regarding B25-0036 – Out of School Time Special Education Inclusion and Standards Amendment Act of 2023: Thank you to Councilmember Henderson and staff for your leadership on this important issue, and for drafting legislation to address the disparities in OST access that youth with disabilities and special needs face. I would like to echo the calls of many other advocates by asking the Council to amend the bill to remove language about “students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs)” and replace it with “students with disabilities and other special needs.” This will make the bill more inclusive by expanding its reach to include a broader swath of youth who would benefit from it.

I would also like to uplift and voice support for recommendations from advocates to rethink some of the solutions that the bill proposes to the problem. Rather than directing resources to  “undertake a study to determine financial standards that will enable the OST Office to attract and retain providers qualified to provide OST programming to students with IEPs,” the Office should implement solutions to support existing OST providers in obtaining the training and resources to adequately support youth with disabilities. One recommendation to consider is creating disability coordinators or similar FTEs within the OST Office to support grantees on a one-to-one basis to evaluate program needs in the area of serving youth with disabilities and connect them with appropriate resources. Another recommendation is for the OST Office to provide required trainings to Learn24 grantees about how to ensure their programs are not only in compliance with all federal and District disability regulations, but also that they are equipped with the tools, resources, and staff to meet the needs of youth with disabilities.

Earlier this year, the DME pledged to dedicate $2.5 million of existing FY24 grant funds to target students with special needs. The aforementioned recommendations should be considered as ways to spend this targeted funding.

3) The OST Office must continue to fund the network of high-quality OST nonprofit providers, and trust them with the multi-year funding they need to scale up. To do this, the Council must repeal SUBTITLE COW-F. OUT OF SCHOOL TIME OFFICE GRANT AUTHORITY EXPANSION in the FY24 Budget Support Act.

The OST Office was established in 2017 with the purpose of creating a government entity that, among other responsibilities, “issues grants to nongovernmental organizations providing out-of-school-time programs.” The OST Office/Learn24 is the largest source of local funding for nonprofit organizations, including grassroots, community-based organizations, to provide OST programming to DC youth. We are very fortunate to have such an incredible network of nationally recognized, high performing youth serving organizations here in DC. Our incredible network of youth- serving nonprofits actually serve as multipliers to DC government funding by leveraging donations, grant funding, and volunteers. And this works best when these organizations coordinate directly with the office OST office directly.

We believe that the BSA text as written will have the unintended effect of destabilizing the District’s OST sector by shifting funding away from school partnerships and away from the organizations that operate vital “third spaces” in the neighborhoods via community-based programs. In the past, when OST funding was moved into the hands of schools, the schools, the young people, and the organizations that provide high quality OST all suffered. It has taken years to build back the system to where it is today.

In addition, we believe that opening up OST grants to DCPS and individual public and public charter schools could have the unintended consequence of exacerbating the inequities in OST access, which are detailed in the new OST needs assessment report from the DC Policy Center.

Well-resourced schools who have capacity to draft strong grant applications could receive funding that should otherwise be spent on supporting youth with greater needs at under-resourced schools.

If the Council will not remove the subtitle, we ask them to amend it to include an accountability mechanism to ensure that OST funding granted to DCPS or individual public or public charter schools is actually used for OST, by requiring an MOA or contract with a nonprofit, and specifically refers to the passing through of funding to nonprofits.

Separate from the BSA Subtitle, the OST Office must prioritize multi-year, year round funding to OST providers. This type of funding fosters sustainability of programming for youth and families, and lessens administrative burdens on both government and nonprofits by reducing the frequency of grant application processes. This funding model must be part of the District’s long-term OST strategy.

4) The DC government must collaborate across agencies and with nonprofit providers.

The District’s goal of “Afterschool for All” will only be achieved through strong cross-agency and cross-sector collaboration and coordination. There have been many successful examples of collaboration in recent years, as evidenced by the growth in OST participation, increasing OST funding, and even the decision to hold a hearing about OST in DC. However, there have also been many examples of agencies cutting OST providers out of decision-making processes or changing policies in a way that creates barriers to OST programming.  Following are some recommendations for improving collaboration now and in the future.

  • DCPS must implement a permanent policy to support afterschool partners by covering security costs. DCPS announced in the current school year that afterschool partners would be required to pay for the cost of security at school-based programs, and though they later reversed the policy, this was only a one-time change.
  • The OST Office must listen to providers to resolve questions around major changes in the FY24 OST RFA that were made without consulting grantees.
  • OSSE must release the 2023-24 RFA for 21st Century Community Learning Centers and share details of the improvements made during the 2022-23 grant pause.
  • All agencies must work with OST providers to ensure that youth can get to and from OST programs safely, by including afterschool programs in all strategic planning around safe student transportation and implementing solutions.

I want to thank Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, OST Office Executive Director Dr. Shontia Lowe, and OSSE Special Education Director Victoria Glick for taking the time to testify and participate in today’s hearing, along with all the great work they and their teams do for OST in DC. Missing from today’s witness list are DCPS Chancellor Ferebee, OSSE Superintendent Christina Grant, DC Public Charter School Board Executive Director Michelle Walker-Davis, andDepartment of Parks and Recreation Interim Director Thennie Freeman. The type of strong and synergetic OST sector that DC’s youth and families deserve requires collaboration and leadership from all of the District’s education officials. I urge the Committee to connect with these leaders and bring them to the table for future conversations about OST in DC.

What’s next?

We are quickly approaching summer, when leaders, parents, educators and youth advocates are discussing how to keep our youth safe and in positive environments while school is out. Yet 57,000 youth will not have access to a summer program because there are not enough spots in existing programs. The benefits of summer programs stretch far beyond public safety – including improved academic performance, social and emotional wellness, and college and career readiness. We should be mobilizing resources so that in future summers, we can confidently know that every young person will have access to a program that meets their needs.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.