After-School Programs Proliferate; Funding, Staffing Seen as Problems
Public schools increasingly are providing after-school programs for young students, but many such efforts could be stymied by inadequate funding and staffing, according to a survey of 800 school principals released last week.
Two-thirds of principals in schools serving prekindergarten through 8th grade say that their schools or districts offer after-school programs, a dramatic increase in recent years, according to the National Association of Elementary School Principals. When the organization polled administrators in 1988, it found that only 22 percent of schools offered such programs. A national study by the U.S. Department of Education in 1993 still found that just 28 percent of all after-school programs were based in public schools.
"We were rather surprised to see the growth in the percentage of schools offering after-school programs. We knew they were growing, but they've done so at a much faster pace than we'd seen in the past," said Vincent L. Ferrandino, the association's executive director.
The increase in the number of after-hours, school-based programs is driven in large part by the needs of working parents seeking convenient, safe, and legitimate activities for their children when the regular school day ends, Mr. Ferrandino said.
Nearly all of the principals surveyed said their after-school programs were on school property and offered students help with homework. Nearly 80 percent also offered recreational sports, and 62 percent said they offered students some type of technology instruction.
Two-thirds of the principals said the after-school learning activities were linked with the instruction students received during the day. Newer after-school programs and those in poorer schools focused more on improving student achievement than did older programs and those in wealthier schools, the NAESP report says.
"These programs have changed dramatically over the past five years, from simply taking care of a child ... to programs focused a great deal more on academics and even leadership development, in addition to socializing," Mr. Ferrandino said. "In many ways, these programs have allowed us to extend the school day."
The principals in the survey reported that obtaining enough funding, finding and retaining good staff members, and securing transportation for students were the three biggest challenges facing their after-school programs.
In an open-ended question, 32 percent of the principals said a lack of staff was a main concern. Eighteen percent said funding was the primary problem, and another 18 percent cited transportation. Holding students' interest, finding adequate space, and getting students to attend were also listed as challenges.
Those concerns are shared by other organizations that support after-school programming, said Judy Y. Samelson, the acting director of the Afterschool Alliance in Flint, Mich.
"One of our greatest challenges now is to figure out how to keep [programs] once we open them, because a concern of a lot of the principals is long-term funding," Ms. Samelson said. "This report backs up the message we've tried to put out there that after-school programs are keeping kids safe, helping them academically, and parents want them."
The NAESP survey revealed that finding and keeping qualified staff members was a particular challenge for programs that had been operating for more than five years, programs that served students in all grades, and programs in the Western part of the country. Financing was cited as a problem most often by principals from high-poverty schools, those from schools with programs established within the past five years, and those in the Midwest and West.
Government serves as the main source of money for after-school programs, the survey found. Local, state, and federal governments contribute a combined 48 percent of after-school funding; another 33 percent comes from fees and tuition charged to parents. Fewer than 10 percent of principals said they rely mainly on community or religious organization, businesses, foundations, or fund-raising activities.
The telephone survey was conducted for the NAESP in May and June by Belden Russonello & Stewart Research and Communications in Washington. The sample for the survey was drawn by the NAESP from its national list of public school principals, and half the principals polled were association members.
Vol. 21, Issue 3, Page 6