Lauren Grimes (center), executive director of Community Enrichment Project, demands that the Office of Out-of-School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes, also known as the OST Office, better ensures that young people in the trenches are made aware of grant opportunities and provided resources to navigate the application process. (Courtesy Photo)

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In the days leading up to a budget oversight hearing the D.C. Council’s Committee of the Whole conducted for all education agencies, members of local nonprofit coalition DC Action encouraged local advocates, parents and community-based organizations to testify in favor of increasing out-of-school time funding. 

While Lauren Grimes, executive director of Community Enrichment Project (CEP), had that goal in mind, she also demands that the Office of Out-of-School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes, also known as the OST Office, better ensures that young people in the trenches are made aware of grant opportunities and provided resources to navigate the application process. 

Grimes, a D.C. Public Schools alumna, recounted an unsuccessful attempt earlier this year to help young people secure a Learn24 out-of-school time grant. She said that she and her students didn’t learn until weeks after applying for the grant that they submitted their application too late into the grant cycle. 

In their April 5 testimony, Zoë Smithen and Hannah Wilson, CEP participants, signed up as public witnesses to request greater transparency about out-of-school time grants, and, in general, opportunities for youth to express their views on political matters with elected officials. 

“We appreciate what Learn24 is doing in the community, but people have to know about the programming and where additional support is needed to keep it going,” Grimes said. “Young people go through a lot in the community and want to see [conditions] get better. Out-of-school time programs are proven [to help do that] and young people are asking for alternatives to policing in schools [and other punitive measures].” 

D.C. Mayor Bowser’s Investments in Out-of-School Time Programming and Access 

In a statement, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) pointed to a bevy of strategies executed by the OST Office to encourage people in the Learn24 network to apply for new and existing grants, including a newsletter, emails to grantees, website updates and direct outreach by out-of-school time staff. 

Learn24, in coordination with the Commission on Out-of-School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes and an external partner, provides grants to organizations that provide children and youth with out-of-school time programming. 

During this fiscal year, funds had been allocated for organizations that could facilitate Safe Passage, Safe Blocks programs and conduct programming at D.C. Housing Authority and Department Human Services sites. Students could also apply for scholarships of between $1,000 and $10,000 to participate in approved out-of-school time activities. In February, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) announced a $3 million investment in the “Recreation for All” community grants for organizations providing programming for young people between the ages of 6 and 18.  

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s fiscal year 2024 budget proposal builds upon present out-of-school time offerings with an allocation of $5 million for the“My Afterchool DC” central online out-of-school time programming hub and $6.8 million for a Special Education Enhancement Fund (SEEF) that creates childcare and out-of-school time slots for special-needs children. 

My Afterschool DC will be piloted to elementary schools determined as having the greatest need and students with limited out-of-school time opportunities. Funds dedicated in the fiscal year 2024 budget toward developing the online system stand to create 1,000 seats at the elementary level, DME told The Informer. 

During the latter part of March, Bowser and State Superintendent Christina Grant visited Easterseals Child Development Center in Northwest in recognition of the aforementioned investments. Bowser noted that part of the amount allocated in SEEF would be awarded to child development facilities that operate before and after-school programs with offerings geared toward infants, toddlers, and school-aged children with disabilities and developmental delays. 

Bowser’s budget proposal also raises the eligibility for the childcare subsidy from 250% of the federal poverty line to 300%. 

In the aftermath of Bowser’s fiscal year 2024 budget release, Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn engaged out-of-school time providers and partners, telling them that, despite lower-than-usual revenue projections for years to come, the administration continues to prioritize students’ post-pandemic recovery. 

Kihn reiterated that sentiment in a statement to The Informer. 

“We believe that all D.C. children and youth should have access to quality, engaging, and enriching activities and opportunities beyond the traditional school day,” Kihn said. “We look forward to working with our grantees and community partners to build out our expansive vision for after-school programming in the District to ensure all families can identify and access high-quality out of school time options.”

DC Action Calls on D.C. Council to Do More 

Weeks before Bowser released her fiscal year 2024 budget proposal, D. C. Council members Christina Henderson (I-At large), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), Charles Allen (Ward 6) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8), in separate letters, requested an increase of anywhere between $10 million to $25 million in out-of-school time programming funds. 

DC Action, a coalition of out-of-school time program providers, has called on those council members to follow through on their requests when adjusting Bowser’s budget proposal. Requests include an additional $5 million in out-of-school time grant funding for general operating expenses and an increase to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, a grant program that had been on hiatus during this fiscal year. 

In terms of what Bowser had already allocated, DC Action expressed a desire for $3 million of the funds geared toward My Afterschool DC to go toward out-of-school time grants. They’ve also requested that the District preserves the SEEF investment.  

“To effectively address the urgent issues of public safety and learning loss, the District needs to offer more opportunities for every youth who needs one,” members of DC Action said in a statement. 

“To achieve Mayor Bowser’s vision for ‘the most robust free before and after school programs in the nation,’ we need our elected leaders and policymakers to offer a clear road map and make bold, long-term investments in these programs to expand their capacity and reach to ensure every young person has access to the opportunities they want and deserve.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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