Education Funding

‘Perfect Storm’ Ahead for Summer Youth Programs

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 24, 2011 6 min read
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when a whole bunch of teenagers have nothing to do all day for two or three months?” she said.

Many jobs programs for young people are facing a funding cliff now that federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has run out. School districts face their own funding cliff with the phasing out of stimulus funds channeled to them through Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act. In addition, the slashing of state budgets has affected both jobs programs and districts’ summer school offerings.

A spot check with public officials in large cities around the country reveals the funding cuts appear to be hitting municipalities unevenly. While Los Angeles and Washington are expected to see reductions in both summer school and summer-employment programs, New York City faces a dramatic cut in its youth-jobs program but the size of its summer school program is expected to stay the same.

In Boston, private funding has helped to make up for the zeroing out of federal funding for the city’s youth summer jobs program and has helped enable a projected expansion of the Boston school district’s summer school offerings.

“Summer is a time of a lot of risk for kids, especially low-income kids who aren’t engaged in something meaningful and productive,” said Sarah Pitcock, the senior director of program quality for the National Summer Learning Association, in Baltimore.

Crime Concerns

Officials in cities that experience a significant loss of summer opportunities for youths are concerned they’ll see an increase in crime rates, Ms. Pitcock said. Typically, it costs a summer-jobs program $1,500 to hire each youth part time for six or seven weeks at minimum wage. Some of the programs combine jobs with classes in financial literacy or “soft skills,” such as how to behave in the workplace.

Ideally, summer school programs share a goal with summer jobs programs of teaching students something new, says Ms. Pitcock. The National Summer Learning Association, which doesn’t precisely track summer school programs nationwide from year to year, projects that such offerings will be down this year because so many districts are facing a financial crisis. Summer school is “the first thing to go,” Ms. Pitcock said.

Arguably, Los Angeles faces the most dire situation among big cities in what it can offer youths this coming summer.

“It is a perfect storm,” said Lisa Salazar, the acting chief of the program-operations division for Los Angeles’ community-development department. “Our economy is down. There is no structured activity for teens while they are on vacation for summer months.”

Ms. Salazar estimates that the city’s summer-jobs program will hire just 725 youths ages 14 to 19 this summer, compared with 9,400 last summer. “What happens when a whole bunch of teenagers have nothing to do all day for two or three months?” she said.

At the same time, the summer school budget for the Los Angeles Unified School District has been cut from $18 million last summer to $3 million this summer. About 22,000 students are expected to enroll this summer. Four summers ago, the budget was $54 million, and the district enrolled 235,000 students.

Restricted Access

Classes this summer in Los Angeles will be open only to 10th graders who have failed courses or 11th graders who have either failed or gotten a D in them, said Javier Sandoval, an administrator for the 671,600-student Los Angeles school district.

Mr. Sandoval blamed the cuts on “severe budget restrictions.” He added that many neighboring districts aren’t offering summer school at all.

“We feel we are fortunate to have the money to spend at least on the 10th and 11th graders,” he said, “so they can catch up and graduate.”

In the nation’s capital, the summer-jobs program is projected to hire 12,000 youths this year, a little more than half the 22,000 hired last year, said Neville Waters, a spokesman for Washington Mayor Vincent C. Gray. Mr. Waters cited budget issues as the cause of the reduction.

And summer school offerings are expected to be very restricted for teenagers in the 58,000-student District of Columbia public schools. Of the 4,775 seats available in the school system’s upcoming summer school program, only 275 are reserved for middle school students and 900 for high school students. The rest are for elementary school students.

Summer school will be provided at 22 sites—eight fewer than last year, wrote Safiya Jafari Simmons, the assistant press secretary for the school system, in an email. She did not provide numbers to compare enrollment with last year’s summer school program but said that for students of all schooling levels, the number of seats has been reduced.

The high school classes are limited to students in their fourth year of high school within three credits of graduating or 9th graders in danger of failing, Ms. Simmons said.

Nationwide, a typical response to budget crises has been for districts to provide high school students only with credit-recovery opportunities or preparation for state exit exams during the summer, said Ms. Pitcock of the summer-learning association. “They have a real vested interest in getting those kids graduated,” she observed.

Ms. Pitcock said her organization promotes a model of summer school that supports both a child’s academic and developmental growth. It’s important for summer schools to offer enrichment classes, not just remedial classes, she said.

Tripling Program

While some districts have stripped summer school down to remedial or test-prep courses, that’s not the case in Boston and Wilmington, Del.

The 17,000-student Red Clay Consolidated School District, one of four districts that serve Wilmington, is putting federal Race to the Top money to work to expand its summer school offerings, said Pati Nash, a spokeswoman for the district. The school system is tripling the size of an elementary school program that introduces children to some of the academic content they are expected to learn during the upcoming school year, from 400 students last year to 1,200 students this summer.

The 57,000-student Boston school district is relying in part on leftover federal stimulus funds and donations from private foundations to expand its summer school program from 5,500 students last year to 9,000 this year, said Jeff Riley, who is the academic superintendent in charge of middle schools and K-8 education, but starts a new post as the chief innovation and development officer for the district on July 1. He said a good share of the classes will combine academics and extracurricular activities.

Mr. Riley said that Boston has had its share of budget cuts. “We’ve closed some schools,” he said. “The dire economy has caused us to rethink how we do business. ... We decided that summer school was one area that we weren’t going to slash and burn.”A reliance on private money has enabled Boston’s summer-jobs program to mitigate some of the negative effects of the economy. The program, which is funded mostly by the city of Boston, is projected to give jobs to about 7,800 youths this summer compared with 10,200 last summer, according to the Boston government.

And some of the city officials involved with summer-jobs programs elsewhere are still trying to boost the number of slots they’ll have for youths this summer by trying to raise private funds.

That’s the case in New York City, where Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appeared on a radio show earlier this month, asking private donors to help underwrite the city’s summer youth-employment program. “It’s helped generations of New Yorkers get their first paid employment,” he said.

Andrew Doba, the chief public information officer for New York City’s department of youth and community development, said in an interview last week that private donors have already supported the effort with $3 million for this summer, compared with $2 million last summer. While the jobs program hired 35,000 young people ages 14 to 24 last summer, it has funding to hire only 23,000 this summer, he said.

He said reductions in summer job slots could have a domino effect on the city’s children. About 40 percent of those jobs are for youths to help run summer camps for children, he said. “If the summer camps can’t tap into this labor source, that may mean fewer spots at summer camps” for younger children, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the May 25, 2011 edition of Education Week as Budget Ax Curtailing Summer Programs

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