State Postpones Out-Of-School Program Grants

The Department of Education will hit pause on awarding grants for before- and after-school programs that serve economically disadvantaged students.

The agency announced it is postponing giving out new money for 21st Century Learning Center Grants as it works to align the program with new education overhauls tied to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Schools that are currently using the grants and planning to reapply this year are protesting the decision, arguing that the loss in funding will result in the closure of successful programs.

However, ODE spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said those who still have time left on their three- or five-year grants will continue to receive funding in Fiscal Year 2018.

“These grants are absolutely, positively not going away and no districts are losing money and the districts that are still in the midst of their multi-year grant will not lose any of that funding,” she said in an interview.

According to an overview of a draft plan for complying with ESSA, the agency said it will continue to fund 140 grantees at a cost of more than $23.7 million next fiscal year.

There are currently a total of 276 grants being paid, 134 of which are set to expire June 30, the Ohio Afterschool Network found.

Those that were planning to reapply for funding and are opposed to the postponement wouldn’t have necessarily received the dollars through the competitive application process, Ms. Halpin noted. Out of the more than 200 applicants last year, 26 received funding.

She added that a main tenet of the grant is sustainability, meaning recipients must show their programs can be sustainable beyond the life of the state funding.

“These grants are not meant to be long-term sustaining funding, these are meant to be sort of startup funds to get these programs off the ground so we can then take that funding and continue to support more programs across the state,” Ms. Halpin said.

OAN and Cleveland’s Open Doors Academy are among those opposed to the agency’s decision to delay releasing new federal dollars in FY18.

They argued that there are already tens of thousands of students who lack access to quality after-school programs and any efforts to put a stop to or postpone improving the situation are concerning.

ODA’s Founder and CEO Annemarie Grassi said the department encouraged current grant users to reapply because it had been expressed that a three-year timeframe wasn’t long enough to establish sustainable funding for programs.

“Now, weeks away from the start of this competitive process, ODE has stripped away the option that it recommended to us, and it has done so just before we need to reapply,” she wrote in a letter to Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria.

Ms. Grassi added that stakeholders were not involved with or consulted on the decision to postpone funding.

This is disappointing behavior on ODE’s behalf,” she said. “Pulling the rug out from underneath our feet erodes our ability to trust one another.”

AN OAN tally of the current programs supported by grants found that they serve 43,205 students in 419 communities.

Those programs that will no longer have the grant support next fiscal year enroll about 20,000 students and they’re supervised by an estimated 1,200 program staff, the group told Superintendent DeMaria in its own letter encouraging ODE to rethink the postponement.

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