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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Show Me the Money: Making After-School Programs Possible

In rural Maryland, keeping after-school programs funded is a continual juggling act.
By Beth Frerking

In a pivotal scene in Jerry Maguire, the energetic football star played by Cuba Gooding Jr., gives his agent, played by Tom Cruise, a high-decibel lesson about his expectations: "Show! Me! The! Money!"

That utterance is the story of Mark Smith's professional life. As coordinator of special programs for St. Mary's County Public Schools, in rural southern Maryland, Smith must stitch together financial support for thirteen after-school programs from a host of public, private, and foundation grants. The primary focus of these programs is to close the achievement gap in reading and math for low-performing, high-poverty students. At least three days a week, each student gets fifty minutes a day of direct instruction in the academic area of greatest need, with no more than five students per teacher. (The school district hires regular teachers to tutor the students.) Subjects vary widely, from programs around computer robotics to leadership training and a class in social problems in the community. Even an African-drumming class is offered.

Nearly twenty years in the business have taught Smith that grants can flourish or wither according to White House priorities or the generosity of a single donor. He also knows that long-term sustainability has become the watchword of after-school funding. In the case of St. Mary's schools, that increasingly means turning to state and local sources.

So, what does it take to run after-school programs in rural St. Mary's County? This school year, nearly three quarters of a million dollars. That includes $533,000 through four major grants and, Smith estimates, at least $200,000 in in-kind contributions from program providers such as the Boys & Girls Clubs and individual schools.

The money pays for after-school programs in nine elementary schools and four middle schools serving 800 students. Overall, that's an average cost of about $940 per student -- slightly lower than the $1,000-per-student cost after-school experts consider typical. (The figure is slightly deceptive, Smith says, because the thirteen programs vary enormously. For example, 400 students attend after-school programs five days a week and are offered bus transportation home. For those, the cost probably is closer to $2,000 per student. The rest attend two- and three-day programs -- some with transportation, others without -- and those programs are much cheaper per student.)

Where does the money come from? Here's a breakdown:

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, administered by the Maryland State Department of Education: $318,750. The grant supports after-school programs at two elementary schools and one middle school. Smith is already seeking ways to replace this three-year grant, because it diminishes significantly over each of the next two years.

The local Board of County Commissioners: $125,000. The grant supports after-school programs at two elementary schools that were dropped when the 21st Century program switched from direct federal grants to state-administered ones. Smith says the commissioners made no promises about future grants, so he may need to seek other funding sources to continue those two programs.

The Local Management Board, a quasi-governmental agency that coordinates local services for children, youth, and families: $63,000. This grant pays for after-school programs at three additional middle schools and two elementary schools.

Private donors Timothy Muris, a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, and his wife, Pamela Harmon: $26,222. The couple is building a residence in St. Mary's County, Smith says, and approached the school superintendent to offer a private grant, and Harmon approved Smith's subsequent proposal. The grant funds after-school programs in three elementary schools.

In the future, Smith says, his biggest challenge will be finding local and state grants to sustain existing programs and, ideally, pay for new ones.

"We have to shift to local and private funds because the 21st Century grant is not an entitlement program, but is for start-up funding," he adds. "In our case, we have been able to shift to some local and private funds, but if the economy slows, these might disappear."

Beth Frerking has more than two decades of experience as a national reporter, Washington bureau chief, and journalism educator. She writes for print and online magazines and newspapers around the country.

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