Only 28 school districts and organizations will receive federal funding for after-school programs for low-income students this year, the Mississippi Department of Education announced Friday, compared to over 100 last year.
Although the U.S. Department of Education awarded more than $14 million for the programs this year, schools and districts will only see about $5.6 million of that after accounting errors on the part of the state education department.
Program operators were told by the state education department last month not to count on any funding for after-school programs funded by federal 21st Century Community Learning Center monies after state officials discovered a deficit in Title IV program funds last month. Three state department employees were fired for using separate Title I federal money to try to make up the deficit, which was created after the department overspent 21st Century money last school year.
Title I and Title IV refer to sections of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Act that provide federal financial assistance for specific education needs.
Despite an earlier estimate of nearly $10 million to work with this year, only $5.6 million will be available to programs for the 2016-2017 school year, the department said Friday. The programs were selected based on their ability to match the federal funds and the year of their grant.
The after-school programs, or 21st Century Community Learning Centers, provide after school academic opportunities for students, particularly those in high-poverty and low-performing schools, and are funded with federal Title IV money. The after-school programs served about 29,000 students around the state last year. The department on Friday did not immediately provide the numbers of students who will be served this year.
State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright said the department decided to “scale back programming” this year after receiving guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.
“We regret the impact that reducing services will have on children and families,” Wright said in a press release. “We plan to open the competition for new and continuing grants in 2017-2018 with a far more rigorous screening and evaluation process.”
Schools to cope with cuts
Jasmine Smith, director of federal programs and curriculum in Perry County School District, said the cut resulted in the loss of one full-time employee and a major scale back of the district’s after school program.
Last year, Perry County received $500,000 for programs at five sites serving students from three districts. Over 200 children participated in the program’s first year last school year.
“It’s just a devastating blow, especially when you’re in a rural area like we are. Our parents and families don’t have access to Boys and Girls Clubs or other nonprofit organizations that run after school activities for students,” Smith said, noting that the schools saw a decrease in discipline and a high pass rate for third graders on their reading test.
This year, the district will only be able to offer an after school program for some 3rd graders, though Smith hopes to find additional funds elsewhere.
Carroll County School District Superintendent Billy Ferguson said his district received around $400,000 for an after school program last year, which he said was “great” with almost 400 students participating.
Like in Perry County, this year’s program will be scaled back and won’t include bus transportation for its participants.
“I just don’t have the money to pay people to come work after school and try to get buses and run buses,” Ferguson said, noting the district’s size and rural location. “It’s a pretty expensive program when you start running buses.”
Last year, Amite County School District received $249,500 for its programs that serve more than 150 students at Amite County Elementary and Amite County High, where district officials thought the program would be funded for at least five years.
“We’re in the planning stage right now,” said the school district’s federal-programs Director Mary Russ. “I don’t know what we will be able to do because we were depending on those funds for this specific program.”
Russ said the community’s response to the program has been very positive, and parents and children have been asking when the afterschool program would start this school year.
Russ said the district is waiting on academic assessment results from the state to know if the program was successful, but is confident results will be positive based on internal surveys.
“I know they are going to miss it tremendously because kids were getting small group instruction after school. They were safe and it was following the guidelines of the 21st century (program),” Russ said.
About 175 students from the Pass Christian School District participate in the Boys and Girls Club after-school program, according to Superintendent Dr. Carla J. Evers. She aims to stay in close talks with Boys and Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast chief executive officer Keva Scott about maintaining the program in the midst of low funding.
“We’ve just been trying to find ways that we can work together to keep the same services provided to our students,” Evers said. “The only concern that we initially had is if they were going to be able to provide the tutorial staff.”
Evers said that although staff members of the Boys and Girls Club are already receiving fewer hours due to the cuts, tutors and transportation will still be provided to students.
“We’re still in the routine,” she said. “We’re still able to get our children there because it’s in our natural transportation flow, and our center is physically attached to one of our schools.”
Other programs affected
Mississippi Valley State University’s after-school program, which served about 90 students daily from Leflore County Elementary, received more than $406,000 last year.
Jannette Adams, a senior development officer/grants administrator at the university, said all parties involved in the decision making process including MVSU administrators, the project director and coordinator, along with the Boys and Girls Club staff, must meet and discuss what the best next steps are.
“Because this is new, parents and students have not yet had a chance to be notified,” Adams said in an email. “We will be speaking with the school district and preparing notification after that time. I am sure they will be very disappointed as we received a high favorability response on our evaluation report for this past year.”
“I am sure we will want to reapply once the process opens,” she said.
For organizations like Operation Shoestring, which provides after-school programming to students in Jackson Public Schools, the lack of funds is “devastating,” according to its director Robert Langford. The grant makes up nearly 20 percent of the group’s budget.
The $250,000-per-year grant made up nearly 20 percent of the group’s budget and paid mostly for staffing for an after school program that serves 155 Galloway Elementary pre-kindergarten through fifth graders.
“The data shows that more students who participated in the program went on to the next grade and had higher third-grade reading test pass rates,” Langford said of the students in the program.
Langford said the program will run at least until December after Langford said he shifted resources and secured an emergency donation of $32,000.
Find the list of programs receiving funding this year here.
Kendra Ablaza and Sereena Henderson contributed reporting.