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Budget woes force cuts in summer-school programs

Resource type: News

The Boston Globe (AP) |

Original Source By David Crary, AP National Writer From coast to coast, tough financial conditions are forcing school districts and nonprofit groups to cut back on summer programs that are widely viewed as invaluable to both struggling and superior students. The casualties including enrichment programs offering Mandarin and dance — as well as remedial programs in basic subjects designed to help children from low-income and disadvantaged homes avoid the so-called “summer slide” that often undermines their academic progress. “Summer is a time when affluent kids advance and low-income kids suffer huge setbacks,” said Ron Fairchild, executive director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Summer Learning. “If kids aren’t engaged in ongoing learning activities, they lose ground academically.” Fairchild also noted that summer programs are a source of free or low-cost meals for many disadvantaged children — meaning that cutbacks can have consequences for nutrition as well as learning. Across the country, thousands of students are affected by cutbacks, ranging from Bethel, Conn., which axed its kindergarten summer program, to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, which is dropping summer school for elementary and middle-school students. Some of the most widespread cuts are occurring in Florida and California as a result of severe state budget woes. In California, there’s a sharp partisan edge to the debate, with some Democratic legislative leaders blaming Republican fiscal policies for forcing big reductions in summer programs. “Cutting these kinds of programs is incredibly shortsighted, and will cost us more in the long run than we could ever save short term,” said state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat. In the city of Santa Rosa, about 1,580 high school students took summer school classes last year, but less than 300 will do so this year, according to Arlen Agapinan, the school district’s director of curriculum for secondary schools. Trying to slash more than $2 million from its budget, the district is giving priority this summer to students needing help passing the high school exit exam and to seniors needing five or fewer credits to earn a diploma. That means no enrichment courses in subjects like Mandarin or creative writing — and none of the accelerated classes that in the past had enabled good students to enhance their transcripts. “We want to help everybody, but we’re handcuffed by the budget,” Agapinan said. Other California school districts cutting summer programs include Long Beach, Whittier and Corning, and the San Juan Unified School District, which serves 40,000 students in Sacramento County. In Florida’s Bevard County, home to the Kennedy Space Center, the school district cut all of its free summer enrichment programs, which last year served some 1,700 students and included a popular course in criminal investigations. A few fee-based programs remain, but otherwise the summer session is now focused almost entirely on remedial work for students who fared poorly on the state’s Comprehensive Assessment Test. In all, more than $1.8 million is being cut from Bevard’s summer programs, including subsidies for transportation. With students having to make their own way to school, and facing fees for some programs, there’s concern low-income families will suffer disproportionately. The school district’s communications director, Wes Sumner, said the cutbacks are part of an effort to curb spending without closing schools permanently or laying off teachers. “It’s tough choices,” he said. “We’re trying to be smart, cut a little here, a little there.” Many other summer school programs in Florida — where state sales tax revenues are down — also are cutting back. These include school districts in Orlando’s Orange County and in Martin County, just north of West Palm Beach. Nonprofit groups that offer summer programs are affected, too. Pat Jones, director of the Summerbridge program at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, said she has had to cut her budget by half, to $40,000, because of a drop in donations. As a result, she’ll be able to serve only 32 middle-school students this summer for a four-week program instead of 55 for a six-week program last year. For the first time, she’s charging a $50 fee for them to attend. Jones said she’s also had to cut her staff of student teachers from 12 to 8, and reduce their pay sharply. “People don’t understand how important it is to keep children engaged in the summer, especially in an educational program,” Jones said. “When they go back to school in the fall, they don’t forget everything they learned the year before. They’re ready to move forward.” Two Summerbridge students returning for a second summer said the program had multiple benefits. “You get to learn new stuff that you didn’t know before and you meet new people who can be your friends for a lifetime,” said Sharon Reynolds. Without Summerbridge, said Ja’Chelle Cummings, “I would’ve forgotten almost half of what I just learned in school, and I would have been bored.” In the San Francisco Bay area, a nonprofit program called Aim High is avoiding cutbacks this summer, but experiencing record demand from families. Executive Director Alec Lee says the program will serve about 1,100 low-income kids this summer, while turning away 300 more who he suspects have been affected by cutbacks in other programs. For children from low-income families, he said, “the landscape is pretty barren when it comes to high-quality, engaging summer school programs.”

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