Thursday, June 15, 2017

School-age childcare in area districts loses significant state funding

by Mary Wilson

Working parents understand the need for childcare. Those who live in the Grandview, Hickman Mills and Center School Districts have the opportunity to take advantage of programming designed to partner with families to provide before and after-school childcare at no cost. The Local Investment Commission, or LINC, was created in 1992 and is primarily state-funded. LINC gained additional organizational flexibility by becoming a 501c3 nonprofit in 1994.

However, LINC, along with other agencies who rely on the State of Missouri for funding, is working through a budget shortfall after the last legislative session to the tune of $1 million. LINC’s total budget for programming is approximately $10 million. With their model of building a neighborhood-schooling atmosphere, LINC offers Caring Community programming in seven metro school districts.

“The Local Investment Commission has been doing this for several years and we are operating in school sites with high family mobility,” said Brent Schondelmeyer, Deputy Director - Community Engagement for LINC. “They’d move from Hickman to Grandview, Grandview to Kansas City, and so on. But, there would be a LINC program in each of these districts, providing some sense of familiarity to the families.”

Schondelmeyer said that LINC offers activities and learning opportunities that simply aren’t available during the normal school day’s curriculum in the classroom.

“In surrounding districts, the cost of before and after-school care is expensive,” said Schondelmeyer. “These are low-income communities and the families’ ability to afford after-school care is pretty constrained.”

LINC has found that while many of the families that use their services could apply for childcare subsidy individually, the organization then took on that task for entire communities. The State of Missouri agreed to provide funding with the idea that school-aged care being provided in the school buildings themselves would provide opportunity for student enrichment.

“This was an opportunity to serve a large number of children in a familiar place,” said Schondelmeyer.

The organization expected to receive $2 million from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Appropriation in the Missouri General Assembly. It was in the Governor’s budget, in the House version of the budget.

“It then went over to the Senate, and at some point someone made the decision rather than $2 million they think it should be $1 million,” said Schondelmeyer. “The other half needed to go someplace else.”

With half of that budget gone, LINC knew as an organization the shortfall couldn’t be absorbed. Each school district was approached by LINC to discuss what programming would look like with less funding. LINC provided options to the districts: revenue-based and expense programming, a combination of both,  or decreased programming.

Center School District, according to Schondelmeyer, is looking at ways to absorb the costs into their own budgets. LINC serves two before and after-school sites in Center, with an average daily attendance of 282 students, while 401 students were enrolled last school year.

“We are currently looking at all options to address what is estimated by LINC to be about a $60,000 shortfall in funds to Center School District,” said Center public relations director Kelly Wachel. “We are working on a plan to make sure we are continuing to take care of our students and families impacted by this decrease in funds.”

In the Grandview School District, LINC serves an average of 726 students per day at five before- and after-school sites, with 1,080 students enrolled in the program. Next school year, the district, in discussion with LINC, has determined to change the childcare program from five days per week to four. A survey has been distributed to district families to share preferences on a Monday through Thursday program or a Tuesday through Friday program.

“LINC provides quality before and after-school care for elementary school age students in a safe, fun and caring environment that supports children’s social, emotional and physical development,” the Grandview School District email to parents read. “The Grandview C-4 School District and LINC are committed to continuing to offer these services at no cost to our families.”

In Hickman Mills, LINC serves 1,453 students on a daily basis at 12 school sites, with a total of 2,326 students enrolled in the program. Next school year, LINC before and after-school programming in Hickman Mills will be changing from five days per week to four. The plan is to offer the program Monday through Thursday, with no child care provided on Friday.

“When the funding issue was presented to our administration, we opted not to charge families a fee per student each semester, but chose to reduce the program from five days to four with no cost to our families,” said Hickman Mills incoming Superintendent Dr. Yolanda Cargile. “When there are budget cuts outside of our control, we have to make those difficult decisions. As a District and in collaboration with LINC, we have a solid communication plan in place to provide our parents adequate notice so they are able to make arrangements for the upcoming school year. It is our hope the funds will be reinstated so we are able to return to a full program in the near future.”

According to Schondelmeyer, LINC approached each school district to determine the best course of action going forward. The Kansas City Public School District is looking at consolidating programs into fewer locations.

“Our approach could have been to not offer programs at every school, which puts families in a difficult place,” said Schondelmeyer. “School districts are in the practice of figuring out budget cuts because they’ve been through several.”

LINC wishes to remain a free program for district families, and Schondelmeyer says the organization will remain optimistic that the funding will be reestablished in subsequent years. 

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