Testimony of Ryllie Danylko Policy Analyst to the Committee of the Whole

DC Action Public Testimony Logo
March 28, 2022
Testimony
Person Testifying: Ryllie Danylko
Title: Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee of the Whole

Greetings, 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, home of the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition. I am testifying today to share feedback on Mayor Bowser’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023, and in particular, the public funding for out-of-school-time (OST) programs.

We commend the mayor for extending the $5 million increase for the OST Office, which the Council added for Fiscal Year 2022, by another year with local funds. By investing local dollars to sustain last year’s investment of federal recovery funds, we can ensure that any progress programs made in the past year to close gaps in participation, build internal capacity, or start new initiatives to meet the changing needs of students, is not lost. While we would like to see these funds become recurring investments to sustain high-quality, affordable OST opportunities, the one-time continuation is a step in the right direction.

OST programs need to maintain or enhance their current funding levels for the following reasons:

  • OST providers need to hire and retain highly qualified staff to work with youth as mentors, tutors, and trusted role models and pay them a competitive wage and provide professional development and training. Programs across the District are facing staffing shortages that are impacting their ability to provide consistent programming.
  • With the significant federal investments in the FY22 budget for OST, many programs were able to use these funds to build capacity, serve more youth, and provide expanded programming options to meet the changing needs of young people. Stable funding for OST will allow programs to maintain their current levels of service or continue extending their reach.
  • As the pandemic continues, programs must budget for costs associated with providing safe in-person programming as the pandemic continues, including PPE, facilities upgrades, and costs associated with testing youth participants and staff.
  • Programs need to maintain operations amid economic inflation that has led to increased operating costs across the board.

Parents and program staff agree that funds for OST must be used equitably and strategically, to remove barriers to participation and reconnect youth to programs. The latest pre-pandemic data available showed that there were simply not enough high-quality, affordable OST slots for young people. We also learned during the recent performance oversight period that around 2,500 fewer youth were served by Learn24-funded OST programs between Fiscal Years 2019 and 2021, meaning that these young people were disconnected from the social, emotional, academic, and numerous other benefits that OST offers youth and families.

We understand that the OST Office is currently working to gather up-to-date data about OST participation, which we hope will give us even greater insight on who is missing out on these vital opportunities by neighborhood, income level, race, and other characteristics. Unfortunately, this work has been delayed, but we look forward to reviewing the needs assessment as soon as it has been released. The needs assessment notwithstanding, we feel confident in saying that OST funds are critical to:

  • Creating more slots in OST programs that are high-quality, affordable, and in-demand, especially in light of recent youth-involved crime, which highlights the need for more positive, productive, and relevant opportunities for youth when they are not in school
  • Connecting young people and their families with OST programs that meet their needs by removing barriers to participation, including by improving information sharing about available opportunities
  • Reconnecting young people who became disengaged from OST during the pandemic. While most OST programs pivoted immediately when the pandemic began, offering innovative and accessible virtual or hybrid programming that met the needs of participants, we know that some youth did not stay involved. As in-person programming becomes safer and more widespread, we must work together to get students and families reconnected to the programs they love.

In addition, with more local dollars going toward OST in this proposed budget than in recent years, it is more important than ever that OST funds are allocated and spent with transparency, accountability, and consistent community involvement.

We urge the Committee of the Whole to continue to closely oversee the OST Office to ensure the office remains a responsible steward of public funds for OST. We hope the Council will consider the following concerns and recommendations for the OST Office:

  • The OST Office must address ongoing issues with grants management, including making sure grantees receive awarded funds in a timely manner and that grantees receive a sufficient amount of funds at the start of the grant period to initiate programming. Many programs report late payments from Learn24, which makes it difficult to maintain operations, pay staff, and maintain financial stability. Small organizations without significant amounts of money in reserve cannot be expected to assume large programming costs when they do not receive on-time payments. To speed up this process, the OST Office must review its grant management and payment procedures and prioritize the hiring of a Supervisory Grants Management Specialist to fill that vacancy.
  • The OST Office must consistently engage with OST providers and families as they make decisions about how the public funds for OST will be used. This should include participation from stakeholders during each phase of the strategic planning process for the OST Office’s 2023-2026 plan, during the information gathering process for the updated OST needs assessment, and during the hiring process for the permanent director of the OST Office. Unfortunately, this type of engagement has not occured.
  • The OST Office must release the overdue annual report for Fiscal Year 2021 so that stakeholders can more accurately assess the spending of public funds for OST and provide clear recommendations about future spending.

We ask that as the Committee considers the mayor’s proposed budget, that you will listen to what parents, providers, and most importantly, young people have to say about what they need. OST programs can be the place where a student picks up an instrument for the first time, the place where they meet a mentor who will inspire them to pursue a career they’re passionate about, or the one place where they simply feel seen, heard, and loved for who they are. We also ask that the Committee continue to work with stakeholders as we create a blueprint for the future of OST in DC, informed by both data and genuine community engagement, where opportunities are accessible to all. We know that achieving this will require more local, recurring funding so that programs can scale up the incredible work they are already doing.

To close, I’d like to share an excerpt from a recent DC Action blog written by Jeronique Bartley, Executive Director of College Tribe, which receives Learn24 funding to provide OST programs to DC youth. College Tribe’s programs serve boys and young men from low-income sections of Southeast DC who are often more likely to have negative outcomes and experiences growing up in the city.

“While we work to improve outcomes for Black young men, I am hopeful that city leadership will see nonprofit organizations, including College Tribe as alternative solutions to entering the juvenile justice system in response to the recent uptick of youth-involved carjackings. We recognize that the more time youth spend participating in OST programs and are engaged in the work we do, the less likely they are to be involved in negative activities. Crime becomes less of an option because they have something more engaging to do. OST programs provide spaces where kids genuinely have something meaningful to do.  Research shows the impact of OST programs on young people, especially those who have adverse childhood experiences on a regular basis. OST programs have done a tremendous job of healing a lot of the pain of those experiences and enabling youth to develop into healthy adults. OST programs offer a safe space to go to and safe people to be around after young people have been in spaces that haven’t been safe emotionally, physically, or mentally. “

College Tribe is doing important work; but like many organizations, they are doing it with a bare bones staff (all of whom are part-time) and the knowledge that there is much more they would love to be able to do – like providing one-on-one mentoring – if only they had more resources. You can read the full blog about College Tribe here.