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Wednesday, 12 August 2009 13:14

Funding cut for after school program is a mistake

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“I can see test scores going down and higher dropout rates in high school,” he said. “These kids are struggling. They’re really not at the age that they need to be left home alone.”

— Steve Claxton, Swain County Community Schools coordinator

 

The immediate consequences of this economic recession are obvious to those with eyes and ears open, as people lose jobs, struggle to keep their homes, and survive on reduced salaries or cuts in employee benefits. But the long-term negative effects are what are really worrisome, as education and social service budgets are slashed, as all levels of government deal with reduced budgets.

One glaring negative example of the potential domino effect affects middle school kids right here in Western North Carolina. As the state dealt with its massive revenue shortfall, an after-school program funded through the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention lost funding. Support Our Students offered low-cost or free after-school care to at-risk teens and helped about 14,000 students statewide

What the program did, essentially, was provide a place for middle school students to go after school until their parents got off work. They did homework, listened to guest speakers, and took part in other programs specifically designed to keep them in school.

It’s no mistake that this program was originally funded through the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Anyone who works with kids or reads newspapers knows that the early teen years are critical in keeping children on a path toward becoming functioning members of our society. They are exposed to all kinds of temptations that could lead them astray, and often well-meaning parents have few choices, as they must work well past 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. to provide for their families.

Leaving teens alone during this time period is, to put it bluntly, dangerous. The SOS programs provided a positive learning environment for kids who often were not doing well in school. And for parents who had become accustomed to latchkey programs at elementary schools, a necessity for after-school care.

The bottom line here is that teens and families will suffer if these programs are done away with. It will be a few years down the road before another child may drop out or another kid may get arrested on some random drug charge. Then they get in the system, and the cost to help them gets much more expensive than a very low-cost after-school program back in middle school that could have helped them stay on the right path.

And so we see firsthand the repercussions of these specific budget cuts. Similar “savings” are being found across our system of education system and social programs as we deal with this recession. Lawmakers are being forced to make some tough choices, but this one is surely a mistake.

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