New law gives rural afterschool programs more flexibility

New law gives rural afterschool programs more flexibility

(Calif.) Afterschool programs in rural areas are now exempt from some state requirements that would have shuttered them in areas with smaller populations under legislation signed last week by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, said such programs that receive grants from the California Department of Education need additional flexibility from strict regulations on moving around resources or program service hours.

After School Safety and Education programs are currently required to remain open until 6 p.m., a mandate that doesn’t always work in sparsely populated areas, Dahle said.

“Many times frontier sites are located remotely, with little to no cell phone reception or service, limited sheriff coverage, long bus rides or walking home in often dark and inclement weather,” according to the author. “Reducing frontier programs of the requirement of staying open an extra hour per day will help with safety as well as funding restraints.”

Children enrolled in high quality afterschool programs often see gains in homework completion, classroom participation and test scores, research shows. In addition to providing a place for students to get help on their homework and receive healthy snacks, studies have also linked afterschool program participation to fewer children and teens engaging in risky behaviors.

Nationwide, more children in rural areas are taking part in afterschool programs, according to the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit organization that advocates for affordable, quality afterschool programs. In 2014, 13 percent of children in rural communities—approximately 1.2 million children—participated in an afterschool program, compared to 11 percent in 2009.

At the same time, more parents in rural areas reported that they would enroll their child in an afterschool program were one available near them. In 2014, 39 percent of rural children who weren’t currently in an afterschool program would be enrolled in a program if one were available to them, parents reported to the Afterschool Alliance.

Under Dahle’s AB 2622, programs that are located in a “very low density” area–those with a population density of less than 11 persons per square mile–can no longer see their CDE grant funding reduced or terminated except under more limited circumstances when program attendance is regularly low.

For example, the CDE can adjust the grant level of a rural afterschool program operated at a school site when the program is under its targeted attendance level by more than 35 percent–up from 15 percent–for two consecutive years.

Those in support of the bill said the increase was needed because in such small communities, if even one family with two children were to move away, the attendance percentage of rural programs is significantly impacted.

Dahle said his bill will help financially stabilize rural afterschool programs even if their enrollment fluctuates.

“The ability for a site to operate is imperative to help those students with both their academic support and the ability to offer quality enrichment opportunities to those that are enrolled and attending the program,” according to Dahle. “In many instances one family might move into a frontier area and this could establish the need for an additional staff member, more supplies, and resources for the site.”

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