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Budget Cuts Threaten WA Kids' After-school Programs

January 30, 2009

Toppenish, WA - Only 22 percent of children ages 5 to 12 attend an afterschool program here in Washington; for teenagers, the figure drops to just 6 percent. A new study by School's Out Washington cites the shortage of such programs, statewide, as part of the reason.

In 2007, state lawmakers budgeted $3 million to fund afterschool activities, especially for kids at risk and in rural areas. Now, providers are worried the funding will disappear, just when their programs are making a difference. Heather Elmore is education services manager at the Northwest Community Action Center in Toppenish.

"We have a lot of gang activity in our communities, high pregnancy rates, and high drug and alcohol use and abuse. All of those risk factors make our programs even more critical, to keep our kids engaged and have individuals that care about them, working with them in those hours after school."

Elmore, whose programs cover numerous small communities in the Yakima Valley, says she can no longer turn to local schools to help out with funding, although they work hand-in-hand, because both are strapped for funds.

"We're part of schools' student improvement plans. We work strategically with the schools to help them meeting those WASL scores and their other test measures. They've used our afterschool programs to help them in meeting their goals for their academics."

Elmore says in her area, the state grants fund several programs. Afterschool money was not included in Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget for the next two years, so providers are asking lawmakers to maintain their funding. Without it, they say, they'll have to close programs and lay off staff members, in addition to no longer serving the families in their areas.

The new study on Washington's afterschool supply and demand is online, at www.schoolsoutwashington.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA