With the state facing a multi-million-dollar budget shortfall requiring many difficult cuts, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst on Thursday announced she would put on hold her bill to create a new afterschool program providing homework help, enrichment activities and an extended school meal plan.
The program, dubbed the Statewide Afterschool Initiative Learning (SAIL) Program, was designed to help students become more effective learners and achieve better outcomes both in and outside their classrooms. However, House Bill 240 carried a $7 million price tag. Even with a drafted amendment to make it a pilot program and decrease the cost, Rep. Longhurst said Delaware’s budget crunch necessitated hard decisions.
“I am committed to creating a quality afterschool program that will keep kids engaged, boost attendance and enhance literacy, improving the likelihood that our students will stay in school and earn their diplomas,” said Rep. Longhurst, who sits on the board of directors for the Bear-Glasgow YMCA and Police Athletic League of Delaware.
“However, when I look at the full picture of our budget, I know we cannot afford it this year. It’s hard to ask for money for this program when we simply don’t have the funds for many basic state functions and have to make tough cuts across state government. This was a really difficult decision because I have seen firsthand the need to increase children’s access to quality afterschool programs.”
As part of the move to put a hold on HB 240, Rep. Longhurst also announced her intention to create a task force including afterschool stakeholders that would review afterschool programs in Delaware; how funds are spent; how to target children not currently being served; and how to best close those gaps.
“While it’s disappointing to delay this bill, it’s important to take a step back before moving forward,” she said. “By further studying the issue, we can make sure that we come back next year with a program that will link communities and schools together and work in conjunction to serve all children throughout the state.”
As currently conceived, the SAIL Program would provide grants to high-need schools as identified under federal Title I regulations. Rep. Longhurst said she would like to see the program offered to all schools so students in all districts receive the same opportunity for afterschool programs.
The SAIL Program has been endorsed by the Delaware State Education Association and the Delaware Chief School Officers Association.
“We share Representative Longhurst’s belief that students deserve and benefit from a wide range of opportunities that extend beyond the school day. After the school day ends, all students should be able to access worthwhile activities that interest them, including participation in games and sports, arts, music, clubs and special interests, as well as tutoring and help with homework,” said DSEA President Frederika Jenner. “DSEA members understand the importance of expanded learning and social opportunities for all students, especially those attending Title I schools.”
In the interim, Rep. Longhurst worked with the Department of Health and Social Services to secure funding for a pilot SAIL Program at Gunning Bedford Middle School. The program served 70 children and partnered with the YMCA.
According to a 2014 parent survey conducted by the Afterschool Alliance, more than 26,000 Delaware students participate in afterschool programs. But, the survey also found that a total of 48,000 students would be likely to participate in an afterschool program if one was available.
“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Representative Longhurst to expand access and drive better outcomes for children in our communities, especially in the areas of math and reading,” said Michelle A. Taylor, President and Chief Executive Officer of United Way of Delaware.
Rep. Longhurst expects to introduce legislation to create the task force next week.