Testimony of Ryllie Danylko, Senior Policy Analyst, before the Committee of the Whole

February 28, 2024
Testimony
Person Testifying: Ryllie Danylko
Title: Senior Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee of the Whole
Type of Hearing: Oversight Hearing

Hello Chairman Mendelson, council members, and staff of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee today by providing testimony regarding the performance of the Deputy Mayor for Education, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education and District of Columbia Public Schools. My name is Ryllie Danylko, and I am the senior policy analyst for out-of-school time (OST) 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 the DC Out-of-School-Time Coalition, which advocates for equitable access to OST programs for all youth and families in the District. 

My testimony today will focus on the performance of the DME, OSSE, and DCPS, and in particular, how these agencies have performed as funders, coordinators, and partners of OST programs. I will share recommendations for how these agencies can improve their performance in the coming year, based on the experiences of our coalition partners who serve youth and families across DC with quality, affordable OST experiences.

As the city is working to tackle academic achievement, absenteeism, public safety, career readiness, and other issues, out-of-school-time programs must be part of the District’s proactive solutions for youth development. The data is clear that OST works as a solution to some of the most pressing issues facing the District right now. OST programs save taxpayers money: one study estimates that every dollar invested in afterschool programs saves taxpayers approximately $3.

Beyond the data, District youth have said firsthand that they want and need more positive, enriching, affordable activities to do when they are not in school. These are quotes from DC youth who were interviewed about afterschool programs as part of DC Action and American University’s Youth Voices Youth Power Project:

  • “Some kids don’t want to go straight home, like me, so I chose to come here every Thursday so that way I can be part of something and feel wanted.” Markale, 15, Ward 7 
  • “It’s given me a greater understanding of issues in my community, and I actually can effect and change stuff in my community, even as just a teenager.” Jayden, 15, Ward 4
  • “Instead of going out and doing dumb stuff out in the streets, if they’re in a program they actually like and enjoy going to, they can avoid all the problems they would be having being out in the street.” Katie, 15, Ward 4
  • “It offered me a community of people who wouldn’t judge, and allowed me to connect with people my own age who understand what it’s like to live in DC as a queer individual.” Tim, Ward 1
  • “I think people don’t understand that young people have a lot of feelings, and sometimes they don’t know how to express themselves, so they try to become hard, or gangster. I think Critical Exposure has helped me evade that part of my life and try to not get into the street life.” Eric, 16, Ward 1
  • “A lot of times, kids my age are outside because they don’t have a lot to do after school and there’s not a lot that interests them. DC should be more oriented toward people my age, since we are the future.” Braylon, 17, Ward 5

You can hear from more youth about the important role of OST in their lives here.

Our coalition’s recommendations are as follows:

1. Agencies must ensure stable funding for OST organizations

Despite these success stories, the end of FY23 and the beginning of the FY24 funding cycle were tumultuous for OST programs. First, it came to light that OSSE would only release $6 million  in federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers OST grants. This amount was just half of what was granted in 2020, which is the year that began the 3-year cycle for the cohort that was up for re-application in FY24. This meant that there would be a funding hole of around $6 million that could have been used to serve thousands of youth. While we appreciate that the DME stepped in to soften the blow by adding $3 million to the FY24 Learn24 grants, this was not a one-for-one replacement and by the time this was announced, applications for Learn24 grants had already closed. (For more details on this, please read this letter from the DC OST Coalition sent August 2, 2023.)

Many grantees also faced unexpected challenges with the Learn24 grant application for FY24, which included significant changes to required program dosage minimums and attendance reporting that did not align criteria established at the start of the school year, among other issues. Because none of these changes were made with prior consultation with or notice to grantees, programs were left scrambling to adjust their models to fit the new application, or risk being deemed ineligible for grant funding. (For more details on this, please read this letter from the DC OST Coalition, sent June 12, 2023). After receiving this feedback, Learn24 opened a small “bridge” grant competition in FY24 as a way to give organizations that could not meet the new requirements an opportunity to apply for funding, as a one-time exception. 

The OST Coalition has since been in communication with Learn24 staff to discuss how the next round of OST grants can better reflect the needs of youth, families, and the organizations that serve them. We are hopeful that these conversations will result in FY25 grant applications and awards that are fair and responsive to community needs, and we will keep the committee updated on that process. 

One way to ensure that providers are consistently consulted about decisions that impact their ability to serve youth is through the passage of the Universal Out of School Time Amendment Act of 2023, which would require at least four months of notice before major funding changes take effect, and further require preliminary community feedback before adopting such changes 

2. The District must make equitable, universal access a reality

By now, all members of the committee have likely seen the 2023 OST needs assessment report from the DC Policy Center, which demonstrates major gaps in access to OST programs. In summary, the report estimates that 53,000 youth lack access to an afterschool program and 57,000 lack access to a summer program. It also showed that Black youth, in particular, face barriers to accessing OST programs due to decades of discrimination and disinvestment linked to structural racism. Ward 8, where 92% of youth are Black, is home to the highest population of students who do not have access to OST activities. Ward 7, where 82% of the youth are Black, has the second-highest population of students who lack these opportunities. 

In the past year, some movement has been made toward closing these gaps, including the introduction of the Universal OST Amendment Act, which would mandate the District to reach universal access by 2035. The OST Commission within the OST Office also included universal OST as part of its latest strategic plan. The legislation creates a blueprint for scaling up OST programs by applying an equity lens to seat growth and intentionally focusing on investments in community-based organizations. These organizations stand ready to serve more young people, with additional funding and capacity building support. Too often, smaller, grassroots organizations are asked to do more with less – including receiving fewer dollars per student in Learn24 grant competitions despite the fact that they are working with many youth at the highest risk of leaving school or becoming caught up in criminal activities. As we move toward universal OST, the District must keep equity for community-based programs and the youth they serve top of mind.

We thank Councilmember Frumin for leading the introduction of the bill and Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Robert White, Trayon White, Brooke Pinto, Zachary Parker, Janeese Lewis George, Kenyan McDuffie, Charles Allen, Anita Bonds, and Vincent Gray for cosponsoring it.

We ask the Council to hold a hearing on the Universal OST legislation as soon as possible, so that District leaders and community-based providers can begin planning for the implementation of universal OST.

3. Agencies must improve collaboration and coordination across OST stakeholders

Since OST programs continue to serve as a trusted bridge between many families and schools, the OST community has information and knowledge about student needs, youth OST program interest, and public safety challenges faced by teens that can help city operations. There are multiple examples within the past few years where decisions made without consulting OST providers caused setbacks in programming, including the DCPS clearance delays and the aforementioned Learn24 grant changes. In both instances, the OST Coalition and partners took the initiative to bring these issues to the attention of the agencies, proposed solutions, and shared feedback on how those decisions hindered their programs. The OST community is eager and ready to source additional community feedback and provide input through regular structured dialogue with the Learn24 Office, Deputy Mayor Kihn, Chancellor Ferebee, Superintendent Grant, and others.

The Universal OST bill also envisions the Learn24 Office playing a more active role in interagency collaboration, including with public safety agencies, which could help OST programming drive solutions to interconnected challenges like truancy, school retention, and safety.

4. Agencies must address transportation and safe passage issues, in partnership with OST

Aside from cost, transportation is the most common barrier that District parents face in enrolling their child in an OST program. As public safety concerns grow, youth and parents tell us there aren’t enough resources to support safe passage between an afterschool program and a student’s home. Some programs have reported a dip in attendance because students fear for their safety if they do not go directly home after school. We know there are similar safe passage concerns at the school level, and that leaders are exploring ways to address this need. We ask that agency leaders bring the OST community, including the DC OST Coalition, to the table for these conversations, to ensure that potential solutions take into consideration the vital role that OST programs also play in community safety. 

The Universal OST bill would also require the District to create a plan to remove transportation barriers to OST participation and collect additional data on the scope of those barriers, which underscores the urgent need for a hearing on this legislation. 

Thank you for your ongoing support of OST in the District, and I appreciate your time and consideration of my testimony. If you have any questions I can be reached at the contact information below.