After-school sports instruction at a YMCA. Courtesy YMCA of San Diego County

As school districts across California plan the reopening of campuses for the 2020-2021 school year, many are concerned about their ability to meet the post COVID-19 learning and social-emotional needs of students within the confines of the governor’s proposed budget with $15 billion in cuts to K-12 education.

Although the new budget aims to lessen the impact for K-12, it calls for a $100 million reduction to After School Education & Safety programs — California’s most cost-effective way to increase student learning and help parents get back to work. We ask Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators to restore this funding to after-school programs for our families.

The proposed cuts to after-school programs will undo an entire infrastructure that has taken years to build, and that is one of the most successful expanded learning programs in the country. In so doing, state leaders are putting at risk a support system that specifically works to mitigate the learning loss of our most vulnerable students, and that has already been hanging by a thread as a result of increases in the minimum wage without sufficient funding for after-school programs.

San Diego is home to 792 before- and after-school expanded learning programs in 49 districts and charter schools. The YMCA of San Diego County serves more than 11,045 high-need students daily through 173 programs across the county. As an extension of the core school day, these programs provide essential educational, literacy and enrichment support in safe, secure and nurturing learning environments.

After-school programs fill learning gaps by teaching children social-emotional skills, team building and other abilities that help them excel academically. More importantly, they directly impact and address equity and access concerns that often hinder student success. In this way, after-school programs help districts support the needs of the whole child and are an important partner in public education.

Throughout the pandemic, school districts and community-based organizations continued to collaborate to meet the individual needs of students and families. They served in critical roles that ranged from:

  • Distributing meals
  • Providing virtual enrichment activities and daily tutoring services for students
  • Assessing the social-emotional well-being of families
  • Redirecting families to needed resources.

Although recent school closures created new challenges in service delivery, after-school programs and staff quickly adapted to support working families. A third of working families in San Diego County can’t make ends meet and rely on expanded learning programs to work, increase earning potential and advance in their careers.

Families are being challenged by COVID-19 in a variety of ways — especially working families, many of whom are also essential workers. We know that communities of color are being disproportionately affected and that historically under-served students will need the existing expanded learning foundation to accelerate learning, promote instructional continuity, reduce severe learning-loss estimates, and address social-emotional and mental health concerns caused by school closures.

The support we provide students and their families is often strengthened by Y staff who serve as community leaders, are qualified and ready to support students with adverse childhood experiences upon their return to school, and often come from the very communities they serve.

San Diego County schools and expanded learning programs will need to collaborate more than ever to meet the unique challenges that are before us. We will rely on each other as partners, resource providers, communicators and advocates for children, youth and families. Our schools cannot afford to lose state funding at a time when we will need to expand student support hours in new and innovative ways. A loss of funding will let down families and students when they need us most.

California must prioritize state funding for K-12 schools and after-school programs in order to help San Diego families recover from both historic job losses, and our children’s learning loss. San Diego schools and after-school partners are doing their part to plan the reopening of schools in ways that meet the safety and needs of children. We need the legislature and governor to do their part by prioritizing funding to school districts and after-school programs.

Dr. Paul Gothold has served as San Diego County Superintendent of Schools since 2017. Steve Hensel is Executive Director of Expanded Learning Programs for the YMCA of San Diego County.