– by Kathy McWatters
In their ESSA proposal ODE clearly states that: ESSA maintains the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant program and recognizes the program as an important contributor to meeting students’ needs by providing enrichment opportunities during non-school hours for children. 21st CCLC is targeted at students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools, and is focused on providing additional support for academic standards.  ESSA stakeholder feedback supports the 21st Century Community Learning Center as a valuable resource. Educators describe this program as providing essential opportunities to support student achievement outside the school day. Stakeholders saw the continuation of this grant as a chance to more closely align these programs with school and district improvement plans. By interrupting the funding of potential new programs in SFY18 the opportunity to serve students who are academically and economically at risk will be diminished.  An immense amount of momentum already created by the implementation of these programs will be interrupted and or lost.  Title I school districts across the state of Ohio that depend on 21st CCLC programs to help support the work of teachers, will find themselves without programs or staff to help reinforce academic concepts after school.   At the end of this year trained and qualified 21st CCLC program staff will have to be let go.  Also, the engagement of non-profit Community Based Organizations staff that support 21st CCLC programs will be diminished. ODE staff are also focusing on sustainability as their justification on why they are withholding funds this coming year.  
 
ODE says that, “The grants made by the state to local entities are meant to be start-up funding and are not intended to provide programs with long-term (past the grant period) funding. Ohio cannot ignore this requirement or it could face audit citations and consequences.”    Even the federal government acknowledges through reports from the Finance Project that it is virtually impossible for programs to sustain past the life of the grant.  It has been ODE practice for the last 15 years to allow grantees to reapply for 21st CCLC funds.  The premise provides no justification to deny access to these funds for all entities. Consider those schools who have never applied for funding.
 
ODE’s decision will jeopardize the well being, education, and future of children and adolescents. Withholding $20 million in federal grant funds next year will deny 20,000 school children and adolescents after school programming that provides children with structure and support after school. Consider our students’ parents and guardians, many of whom are low income, working two or more jobs, do not have reliable transportation, and/or unable to be home with their children when school is over.
 
Jeremy Marks, ODE Federal Grants Manager justified this plan stating that, “Money not spent by the state this year would be rolled over to create a larger pot for the next competition. That might result in larger individual awards or simply more awards.” I fear that increasing the pot for one year will create unequal waves of applications moving forward. Programs that receive funding from the larger pot in 2018-2019 will all be seeking renewed funding at the same time one year later. At that point, annual funding for the 21st CCLC program will have returned to its normal size. Therefore, a large number of high-quality programs will againbe forced to close their doors not because of their own performance, but because of ODE’s decision to withhold funding one year, double it the next, and then return to normal levels of funding. This negative impact stands in stark contrast to our greatest impact on the children and adolescents we serve: Our long-term, consistent, and continuous programming and services. There is no excuse for denying access to funds that are there!

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