Education Week - December 12, 2012 - (Page 8)

8 EDUCATION WEEK n DECEMBER 12, 2012 n In Rural Areas, After-School Efforts Must Stretch to Provide Services Funding and transportation are common challenges By Diette Courrégé One of three grants Linda Barton relies on to provide out-of-school programs to her students will run out this month. With two other grants still in play, Ms. Barton is perhaps in a better situation than most such providers, but she’s trying to figure out how to maintain her existing programs in her Lander, Wyo., community until she can get more money. “The funding is always a challenge,” she said. Ms. Barton is the executive director of a K-12 before- and after-school program, Lights on in Lander, in the central part of the sparsely populated state. The school-based program is financed with public dollars and serves nearly 340 students. Rural out-of-school programs such as those Ms. Barton runs face a host of challenges because of their isolated locations. Inadequate funding, access, transportation, and staffing are among the biggest obstacles. Despite increasing national attention to the potential for out-ofschool programs to enhance school offerings and provide academic enrichment, leaders in rural areas mostly agree that their troubles, exacerbated by the economic crisis of recent years, aren’t getting easier. “Most programs that we surveyed are actually worse off than three years ago at the height of the recession,” said Jen Rinehart, the vice president of research and policy for the Afterschool Alliance, based in Washington. Sherry Comer, the director of after-school services for the Camdenton, Mo., school district, greets kindergartner Bernice Gopar during a program for English-language learners in the sparsely populated community. Obstacles Identified For after-school providers in rural communities, much like their urban counterparts, the economy is an ongoing challenge to their ability to provide high-quality programming to enough students, said Ms. Rinehart, citing recent studies. “The indication is that rural communities seem to be right in line with the overall after-school picture, which is not optimistic,” she said. A 2011 Harvard Family Research Project report found that out-of-school-time programs in rural areas had positive effects on students, but they face problems that urban and suburban programs did not. The report, “Out-of-School Time Programs in Rural Areas,” highlighted high family poverty, low funding, lack of transportation, and a shortage of qualified workers as some of the biggest issues facing rural communities. On funding, rural areas generally have smaller populations that limit financial resources. They receive less federal, state, and local money for after-school services compared with urban and suburban areas, according to the study. Another report, “Uncertain Times 2012,” released this year by the Afterschool Alliance, found that nearly four out of 10 programs reported that their budgets were worse today than at the height of the recession in 2008. That lack of money is huge for Sherry Comer, who has directed an after-school program in Camdenton, Mo., for 14 years. Her program was one of the original recipients of the federal 21st Cen- tury Community Learning Center grants, and it’s relied on a combination of sources, such as federal Title I and economic-stimulus money, to keep afloat since then. “It is exhausting, and it takes a lot of my time to keep the balls juggled,” said Ms. Comer, who serves on the Missouri AfterSchool Network board. “It’s consistently been a challenge since we started. I’m always looking for where we can get funding.” Photos by Ryan Henriksen for Education Week Out-of-School Enrichment Many rural communities rely on 21st Century Community Learning Center grants to serve their students. The program offers funding for centers that provide academic-enrichment opportunities during nonschool hours for children, especially those who are considered poor and attend lowperforming schools. The $1.2 billion program is formula-based and allows states to decide how to distribute the money. There’s no mandate for a rural setaside, although some states award grant applicants more priority points if they are rural. An estimated 8.5 million children are in after-school programs nationwide, and more than 1.5 million are in those funded by that pot of federal money, according to the Afterschool Alliance. Sylvia Lyles, the director for academic improvement and teacherquality programs in the U.S. Department of Education’s office of elementary and secondary education, which oversees the 21st Century grants, has rural areas on her agenda because they face so many difficulties. She has worked closely with some states on solutions. “From my vantage point, I don’t believe it’s getting harder [for rural schools],” she said. “I think it’s a hard issue.” In some communities, the lack of money can lead to a lack of access, which is troubling for rural after-school advocates. One national study found that 57 per- cent of rural parents who said their children didn’t participate in after-school programs cited the unavailability of such programs, compared with 37 percent of suburban parents and 36 percent of urban parents. Ms. Rinehart of the Afterschool Alliance pointed to data that show children in rural areas were the least likely of all geographic groups to take part in after-school programs because those programs didn’t exist where they lived. That was particularly true among lowincome rural families, she said. “Given the research that we have, perhaps there should be additional focus on rural communities because we know that kids in those communities are least likely to be able to access after-school programs,” Ms. Rinehart said. The isolation of rural communities can make transportation to and from out-of-school programs a costly and time-intensive prospect. Rural areas typically don’t have the public-transportation systems available in more-populated areas. “It’s harder to keep the kids here and to get them home,” said Ms. Comer, the Missouri after-school provider. “Transportation is a huge barrier.” Ms. Comer spends roughly 15 percent of her program’s budget on transportation, but that’s still not enough to be able to deliver students to their front doors. The program trimmed costs by creating drop-off points, and those work well until later in a given month, when parents run low on money, she said. When parents can’t afford the gas to get to work, much less pick up their child from a dropoff point, the child can’t stay after school, she said. Finding the staff needed to run out-of-school programs can also be difficult. A smaller workforce, low education levels, and high poverty rates make it tough to recruit and retain employees. In Wyoming, it’s hard to find employees who are willing to come in and work for two hours in the middle of the afternoon with no benefits, Ms. Barton of Lights on in Lander said. Finding Success It’s also hard to find money or time to offer additional training, and there’s no money set aside to provide for cost-of-living adjustments or raises, which Ms. Barton called a flaw in the federal 21st Century grant program. “How do you run these programs effectively and meet the requirements that are becoming much more demanding in terms of expectations?” she said. The international child-welfare organization Save the Children began its work in Appalachia about 75 years ago, so its roots are in rural communities. It started focusing more on after-school programs in 2005, which was when Ann Mintz designed a literacybased program to build children’s skills outside of school. What started in about 30 schools now has spread to 156 serving more than 19,000 students in 14 states. Save the Children targets high-poverty schools with a high percentage of struggling readers. “We have found our niche to be rural, but the program we’ve designed would work anywhere,” Ms. Mintz said. “There wasn’t another entity that was coming into rural areas to provide out-of-school programs. If you look at cities, there are some fabulous out-of-school programs. We didn’t see any for rural areas.” In some ways, she said it’s becoming easier to operate rural programs, but other issues have made it more difficult. “Transportation just doesn’t get any better,” she said. “It probably gets worse with gas prices going up.” Equipping staff members with

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - December 12, 2012

Education Week - December 12, 2012
Test Designers Tap Students for Feedback
Race to Top Draws Out New Suitors
Common Core Taught Through the Arts
Federal Attention on ELL Needs Seen to Wane
News in Brief
Report Roundup
NAEP Seeks to Test New Measure Of Student Poverty
In Rural Areas, After-School Efforts Must Stretch to Provide Services
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: McGraw-Hill Education Sale Highlights Publishing Trends
K-12, Higher Ed. Unite to Align Learning In Minnesota
States Pledge to Expand School Hours, Days
Absenteeism Linked to Low Achievement In NAEP Time Study
Union Pushes Higher Standards For New Teachers
Brand-New NAEP Report on Vocabulary Shows Same Old Gaps
Psychiatrists Revising Manual On Mental Disorders
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: N.C. Law Protects Educators From Online Harassment
Blogs of the Week
Education May Not Benefit From Brighter Financial Outlook
K-12 Education Advocates Lobby To Avert Fiscal Cliff
Policy Brief
Louisiana’s Ambitious Voucher Effort Unclear Following Judge’s Ruling
BARNETT BERRY & FREDERICK M. HESS: Expanded Learning Time: An Avenue to Greater Change
DAVE POWELL: Confusing Achievement With Aptitude
ANITA N. VOELKER: Smokeless Santa? Sanitizing a Child’s World
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JAMES S. LIEBMAN: Ending the Great School Wars

Education Week - December 12, 2012