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00000176-e6f7-dce8-adff-f6f7707e000090.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area.This multi-year commitment to providing learning-focused news coverage in southwestern Pennsylvania is made possible by a generous grant from the Grable Foundation.

More Allegheny County Kids In After-School Programs, But Service Gaps Still Exist

Courtesy of Assemble

There’s good news and there’s bad news when it comes to after-school programs in Allegheny County.

The good news is that more children than ever are participating in after-school and out-of-school-time programs: 10.2 million nationwide and 52,646 in Allegheny County, according to a new report from the Afterschool Alliance. That puts the national participation rate at 18 percent, while Allegheny County’s participation rate is much higher at 28 percent.

The bad news is that, of the kids in Allegheny County who aren’t in an after-school program, 70 percent of their parents said they would be if one were available.

Those are just a few of the findings announced Tuesday morning at the State of Afterschool Symposium, organized by Allegheny Partners for Out-of-School Time, or APOST, a project of the United Way of Allegheny County.

In addition to the Afterschool Alliance’s “America After 3pm” report, which has been published every five years since 2004, reports on funding and availability of programming were released.

Alicia Chatkin, director of programs for children and youth at United Way of Allegheny County, said funding is the biggest challenge faced by after-school programs.

The report titled “Allegheny County Out-of-School Time Funding Inventory,” co-authored by Kelly Martin and Robert McCall of the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development, found that the largest chunk of after-school-program funding – about 40 percent – is a mix of federal and state dollars through the Child Care Works program. Another 18 percent of the $62 million pie comes from local funding organizations, like the Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Foundation and others.

“Funding is still very much piecemeal … in after-school, summer programs, out-of-school-time learning,” Chatkin said. “How do we blend these funding sources so that, long term, there’s more sustainability for this work, so that all kids can be served?”

Another challenge, according to Martin, is that Child Care Works subsidies are only available for children up to age 12, which could account for the significant drop off in participation rates in the middle and high school years.

According to the Afterschool Alliance website, teens who do not participate in after-school programs are three times more likely to skip class, drink, smoke cigarettes, use narcotics, and engage in sexual activity than teens who do participate.

There are benefits for parents too. The Afterschool Alliance reports that parents who kids are in afterschool programs are less stressed, have fewer unscheduled absences and are more productive at work. 

But the Afterschool Alliance Report showed that the average cost of an out-of-school time program is $114 a week, up from $55 a week in 2004, adjusted for inflation. Mila Yocum, director of APOST, said that represents nearly two full days of work for a parent making minimum wage, and without subsidies, after-school programs are not feasible for many families.

Attendees at Tuesday’s symposium included service providers, education researchers, teachers and social workers. The presentation of the reports was followed by a facilitated discussion and action planning session, which Chatkin said will help stakeholders form coalitions for change.

“If we can talk about the importance of after-school programming together in a unified voice, that will influence our advocacy efforts, which might ultimately lead to funding … so that all of our children have an opportunity to learn outside of the school day,” Chatkin said.

Chatkin said having hard data to work from is vital for figuring out how to fill gaps in both services and funding.

“Sometimes in our work, in the nonprofit sector, we’re playing catch-up,” Chatkin said. “This is a way to get out in front and really be visionary.”