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Economy affecting after-school and summer programs

By Staff | Jun 24, 2009

The economic climate in Florida and throughout the United States may be negatively affecting after-school and summer programs, according to a report released by the Afterschool Alliance.
More than 8,000 Florida schools were surveyed and 97 percent said the recession is affecting their communities with higher food costs, increasing gas prices and more families than ever struggling to pay the bills.
Eight out of 10 school programs that participated in the report cited a loss in funding due to the economy, while two out of 10 said cutbacks forced them to close down some programs or sites.
Schools surveyed said summer programs in 2009 are expected to have increased enrollment of 33 percent, causing even more strain with funds already spread thin.
“After-school programs in Florida have been deeply affected by the economic downturn, as have the children and families they serve,” said Bobbi Davis, after-school ambassador for the Afterschool Alliance, in a prepared statement.
Forty-six percent of respondents said their budgets are inadequate to meet student needs.
“Many programs are struggling to keep their doors open for children and families in their communities, and doing so with considerably less funding than in the past,” said Davis.
Keith Locklin, superintendent for the Cape Coral Parks and Recreation Department, said official enrollment numbers for summer programs have not been released, but he believes there is a slight increase in the amount of children from the middle school age range.
Locklin said that even though the economy has caused some community services to crumble, summer programs are a core part of the department and no programs have been cut.
The city also did not raise the price of summer programs in 2009.
“We didn’t cut any summer programs, we have slimmed down staff considerably, but not to the point where ratios would be dangerous,” he said.
The department is offering the same amount of programs this year, but other programs may have to be cut in the summer of 2010 based on what happens in the budgeting process, Locklin said.
But even if cuts are made, he is sure summer programs will remain safe.
“Not for the summer, that is one of our core service areas, but we may have to cut some programming, but where that will be we aren’t sure yet,” Locklin said.
This year the city is working with an anticipated shortfall of $30 million in its general revenue.
Summer and after-school programs are also a chance for students to get a meal.
Officials from the Afterschool Alliance are worried that less summer or after-school programs will provide less opportunities for lower-income students to receive a meal or stay supervised.
“Quality after-school programs do incredible work keeping kids safe, inspiring them to learn and helping working families,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance. “These programs also provide students with healthy snacks, sometimes dinner and breakfast.”
Sixty-two percent of students enrolled in the Lee County School District are in the free or reduced lunch program.
The Food Services Department has organized a Summer Feeding Program in areas of need where more than 50 percent of the population is eligible for reduced lunch.
The school district also announced that it downsized its 2009 summer school program by incorporating more online programs.