A new survey released by the Afterschool Alliance suggests a bleak outlook for afterschool programs in the wake of budget-tightening at state, federal, and local levels. Afterschool programs, which are generally already struggling to meet the needs of the children in their communities, face further dwindling resources and an uncertain future.
Texas is one area where afterschool programs are faring relatively well compared to the rest of the country. However, even here a significant number of afterschool programs report that children in their communities lack access to a suitable program despite needing it.
"While it's encouraging to see Texas report better numbers in certain areas than some of its afterschool peers nationally, that doesn't mean that the state's afterschool providers are on solid ground," said Molly Wofford, executive director of the Texas Partnership for Out of School Time. "There are children and families in Texas who need and deserve the support of afterschool programs but are getting shut out. That shows that we aren't making a full investment in afterschool programs, and the future for young Texans may not be as promising as it should be."
While two in five afterschool programs nationally report that their budgets are in worse shape than the high point of the recession in 2008, and this figure is a relatively smaller 28% for Texas, this still suggests significant problems. The state — which is doing well compared to the national trend — is still failing to support many children in its communities who are desperately in need of afterschool programs that provide children with a supervised space their parents know are safe and provide much needed additional educational opportunities. There are states whose afterschool programs are in much worse condition and under greater threat, suggesting an impending failure nationally.
In Texas, many afterschool programs have reduced staff hours, pay and benefits to save money, causing an increase in staff-to-student ratios. They have also reduced or eliminated field trips, as there is no money left over.
Jodi Grant, executive director of Afterschool Alliance, says that the programs are not a luxury but a vital part of the overall education process which aims to give a brighter future to children across the country. As these children become economic contributors later in life if their academic outcomes are positive, then it may indeed be shortsighted to cut their educational resources in response to an economic downturn.
"In the midst of these harsh economic realities, afterschool program leaders are being forced to make painful decisions," Grant added. "The students they serve are at risk of being denied access to afterschool programs, which keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families.