- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2002

D.C. school officials are scaling back a popular after-school program that is running out of money, leaving working parents no choice but to pick up their children earlier in the day and find alternative day care come June.
"We have been very frustrated," said Margot Berkey, co-president for the Home and School Association at Eaton Elementary School. "It has been a wonderful program, but one of unfulfilled promise. And now they have to cut it two months before the school year ends and expect parents who are just getting off work to be there to pick up our children. What are parents expected to do?"
Afterschool for All expanded from 70 schools to 140 last fall after being promised $20 million in federal funding. The program, running from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., has drawn an unexpected and overwhelming response from parents. As a result, school officials say, the program has spent $11.5 million this year to serve 18,500 children, an increase from 10,000 over last year. The other $8.5 million promised hasn't materialized.
The money for the 70-year-old program comes from the federal program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and is administered through the D.C. Department of Human Services.
School officials say the only equitable way to handle the shortfall is to cut the program across the board: As of last week, the program ends at 5 p.m. It will close May 31 for the summer one week earlier than usual and two weeks before the end of the school year.
"We just started serving all the schools in September, and we were so overwhelmed," said Howard Brown, the school system's director for after-school programs. "We thought we had more money than we actually did. I am just devastated over this."
Mr. Brown said his "dream" of serving all the District's children backfired when he underestimated the amount of demand, the costs of expanding so quickly and the amount of cash on hand.
"It is a terrible imposition, I know," Mr. Brown said. "But we have no choice. We are out of money. But I will do whatever I can to support and encourage local schools to come up with other ways to deliver the program."
He said the school system needs about $4 million to continue the program unchanged until the end of the year.
In the meantime, program officials are encouraging parents and schools to come up with solutions, such as contributing funds and staff. The school system will leave program monitors and security on site until 6:30 p.m. to help.
Next year, school officials say, the programs most likely will charge fees perhaps on a sliding scale based on income and may institute waiting lists.
Many parents said they would return their children to their original private after-school programs, which took a hit when free after-school care was made available through Afterschool for All.
But paying almost $200 per month per child would be a formidable obstacle, particularly for parents with lower incomes and multiple children. Space limitations at private programs would be another challenge, parents say.
Mount Pleasant resident Leslie White's son, Henry, a fourth-grader at Murch Elementary in Northwest, has enjoyed Afterschool for All, but will return to a previous after-school day care provider. She said she could see trouble coming when the program expanded.
"It seemed unrealistic," she said. "I applauded its availability to everyone, but I was suspicious it wouldn't work. I was wondering, 'Where in the world would all that money come from?'"

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