Funding Cuts Leave MN After-School Programs Scrambling

Funding Cuts Leave MN After-School Programs Scrambling Click to Enlarge

ST. PAUL, Minn. - As the academic year nears the halfway point, some communities in Minnesota are still struggling to make sure kids are spending quality time when classrooms let out for the day. Children's advocates say that's because years of funding cuts for after-school programs are showing their effects.

Bharti Wahi, director of Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota, says a mix of government and philanthropic cuts are to blame. And she says it isn't an isolated problem.

"We find ourselves in a challenging space to be able to provide services," says Wahi. "Not just here in the metro, but I think also across the state."

Wahi says a key after-school program they're involved with had to end services at three sites this year because funding ran out for federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grants. Since the state has scaled back its funding, along with philanthropic organizations, competition is fierce for those federal grant dollars.

In the most recent round, 37 Minnesota groups and school districts applied, but only 11 were funded.

After-school programs often get bipartisan support for keeping kids safe and helping them learn past the school day. But state Rep. Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis, says it's been a decade since Minnesota provided state funding for these programs.

He tried to make it a focus during last spring's budget talks, but the money wasn't included in the final bill. Lee says he'll make it a priority again next session.

"I have seen the impact of high quality after-school programming," says Lee. "Not just for myself, but for folks in my community, and for a lot of the students that I'm meeting nowadays who are part of programming, and why they feel like it's so important and crucial to them and their success."

Minnesota is in the first year of a two-year budget cycle. But Lee says the announcement this week that the state has a projected surplus of $1.3 billion could allow for additional spending.

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