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Advocates Seek First Increase To California After-School Funding In Decade

Students and advocates for after-school programs rally at the California stat...

Credit: Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio

Above: Students and advocates for after-school programs rally at the California state Capitol on Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

Backers of California after-school programs are pushing hard for their first state funding increase in a decade, even as the Trump administration has called for cutting federal funding.

The hundred or so students and advocates came to the California Capitol Tuesday to focus on state budget talks. But President Trump’s proposal to cut federal after-school funding loomed over the rally.

“All of us – with a brain, and with children, and who live and work in communities – fundamentally understand how wrong that is,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles).

Trump’s budget chief has said there’s no evidence the programs work.

California pours four times more money into its after-school programs as the federal government – money protected by a constitutional amendment backed by Arnold Schwarzenegger before he ran for governor.

But that $550 million a year hasn’t gone up in the last decade. Advocates at the Capitol say this must be the year that changes.

“After-school is so critical to the development of so many children, and after-school can save so many different lives in different ways,” said Katie Calderon, a senior at Hamilton High School in Los Angeles who’s participated in multiple programs.

Governor Jerry Brown’s latest budget proposal, which he released last week, does not include an increase. H.D. Palmer with the governor’s Department of Finance said Brown instead wants to boost school district funding nearly $2 billion beyond his previous proposal.

“There are additional general purpose resources that are now available to school districts – more so than January – which they can apply to these programs if they so choose, and if they think those are the top local priorities,” Palmer said.

The Department of Finance also opposes a state Senate bill that seeks to increase funding.

But districts must balance after-school programs against other needs. And the powerful California Teachers Association opposes using that money for after-school programs. So Asm. Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) is instead exploring whether the state could use money raised by two ballot measures approved last year: Proposition 56, the tobacco tax, and Proposition 64, which legalizes and taxes recreational marijuana.

Advocates say there’s an urgent need for help. One Los Angeles program, LA’s BEST, said it faces a deficit of more than a million dollars next year. And the Sacramento City Unified School District has just announced it’s ending a decades-long relationship with the City of Sacramento’s START program because the district and city couldn’t reach a funding agreement.

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