More schools qualify for program while funding stays the same
The North Dakota 21st Century Community Learning Center program is required to operate at least seven hours per week.
JAMESTOWN – The hours will be reduced for an afterschool program that will be used in four Jamestown Public School District elementary schools in the upcoming school year because of the annual amount per student is reducing each year to run the program.
It will cost an estimated additional $80,000 for the 2022-23 school year to run the North Dakota 21st Century Community Learning Center program in four elementary schools in Jamestown until 6 p.m. five days per week, according to Jolene Garty, director of student services for the South East Education Cooperative.
The South East Education Cooperative (SEEC) is one of seven Regional Education Associations in North Dakota and offers professional development and services to member school districts, Garty said. Through the North Dakota 21st Century Community Learning Center (21CCLC) program, the SEEC receives a federal grant to subsidize the cost of fees for families at qualifying schools. The afterschool programs are operated by SEEC in partnership with the school districts.
The SEEC applies for Community Learning Center program funding from the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction on behalf of the Jamestown Public School District and other districts.
In Jamestown, the SEEC will operate the Community Learning Center program, which is an afterschool program, at Lincoln, Louis L’Amour, Roosevelt and Washington elementary schools for the 2022-23 school year from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 25 through May 24.
“We are expecting around 146 students next year,” Garty said.
The SEEC operated the program for the 2021-22 school year in Lincoln, Louis L’Amour, Roosevelt elementary schools until 6 p.m.
Garty said the Community Learning Center program is required to operate at least seven hours per week. The summer program is not required to be operated with the grant funds, but it is typically something that the school district and SEEC make an effort to run.
She said the SEEC is aware that most parents aren’t done working at 4:30 p.m. so a majority of the afterschool programs at various school districts have operated until 5:30 or 6 p.m.
“Overall we absolutely understand that this is a challenge for parents and families and students, and the decision is being made on what is feasible with the funding that we expect to be allocated,” she said.
Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Rob Lech said it is unfortunate to see the hours of the Community Learning Center program being reduced for the 2022-23 school year. He said the program is a great option for additional academic support for students.
“The reality is the funding (per student) has decreased,” he said.
Garty said the SEEC receives funding from the state Department of Public Instruction to operate the programs. The state Department of Public Instruction receives $6 million per year in federal funding and the department hosts a grant cycle to award funds to community-based organizations, school districts or Regional Education Associations.
Funding is provided annually for the Community Learning Center program on a per-student basis, she said. The estimated additional $80,000 to run the Community Learning Center program in the Jamestown Public School District until 6 p.m. is based on the $1,300 per student the SEEC receives from the state Department of Public Instruction.
“This does not include summer programming as well,” she said.
Schools qualify for participation in the Community Learning Center program based on their free and reduced lunch rate – 40% of the student population – or schoolwide Title status. She said more schools now qualify for the program.
“With the minimal funding, more schools have continued to qualify for the program, so that $6 million has just continued to be split more ways, and so the funding per student has continued to drop,” Garty said.
For the 2021-22 school year and summer, the Department of Public Instruction provided $1,134 per student, but the actual cost was $3,800 per student. Jamestown United Way also provided $7,000 annually for the Community Learning Center program but will drop to $6,400 for the 2022-23 school year.
Over time, the annual amount provided per student is reducing each year because of more schools qualifying for the program, she said.
She said a fee can be charged for students to participate in the program but many families do not pay their entire bill. With the annual amount provided per student reducing and the loss of revenue from unpaid fees, the programs in Jamestown are operating at a loss, which will be covered through the SEEC’s general fund, she said.
“One of the federal regulations is that we can’t require families to pay the fees,” she said. “So if a family doesn’t pay their fees, we can’t remove their child and bring in a new student who would be able to pay so the fee revenue that we bring is very unpredictable.”
She said the Community Learning Center program is designed for students from lower-income households with academic needs. She said students who qualify for free or reduced lunch in school are prioritized because of the limited spots available in the program.
“In the past, we’ve been able to with the funding model being higher, we’ve been able to do both – provide care until 6 o’clock and focus on those academic pieces while not taking in a lot of fee revenue,” Garty said. “However, with more programs being funded and the per-student amount continuing to be lower, we are just hitting that gap now.”
The Community Learning Center program fees are charged on a monthly basis based on free, reduced and full-pay lunch status. The monthly fees for a student to be in the program have been reduced because the number of hours the Community Learning Center program will operate has been reduced. The full pay rate per student is $65 per month while the cost will be $10 per month for those on free lunch and $25 per month for those on reduced lunch.
Most students participating in the Community Learning Center program range from kindergarten through third grade, but students up to fifth grade can also be in the program. Garty said the program is required to have students spend 65% of their time on academics.