The Learning Curve is a weekly column that answers questions about schools using plain language. Have a question about how your local schools work? Write me at


My grandparents lived with us when I was growing up. My grandmother watched my brother and I after school, driving us around to activities, helping us with our homework and cooking dinner for everyone to help my parents, who both had full-time jobs.

The Learning Curve

My family was lucky. My parents didn’t have to worry as much about what I was doing and who I was with from 3 p.m., when school ended, until 6 p.m. when they got off work. They got free after-school care from someone they trusted.

That’s not the case for many working parents.

In August, Ashley Lewis, who does consulting work for VOSD, asked me about before- and after-school care.

At her neighborhood elementary school, she said, you can only get before-school care if you qualify for Primetime, a free government-funded program. To qualify, a family must be low-income and attend five days a week.

For after-school care, Lewis said, if you don’t qualify for Primetime, you can pay for Character Builders, another program run by the YMCA, but spots are limited. Lewis said she was on the waiting list for Character Builders.

“It boggles my mind that this isn’t a benefit available to ALL families who need it,” she said. “I don’t mind paying, I just need a spot!”

She’s not alone.

Participation in after-school programs increased by nearly 4 million children nationwide between 2004 and 2014. Despite the growth, in 2014, 19.4 million parents still wanted to send their children to after-school programs, but couldn’t, according to a report from the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for the expansion of afterschool programs nationwide.

In general, after-school programs have a mix of indoor and outdoor activities, like sports and homework help.

After-school programs serve a variety of purposes. On the most basic level, it’s a safe place for your kids to stay when school is out and you’re still working. They can also provide academic enrichment, company for children and time for healthy physical activity.

The biggest source of funding for after-school programs in California is the After School Education and Safety state grant. It funds programs like PrimeTime at San Diego Unified School District, Safe Time for Recreation and Tutoring for Children at Chula Vista Elementary School District and some of the Extended Student Services before- and after-school programs at Poway Unified.

PrimeTime serves about 15,000 children each year at 116 elementary and middle schools in the district. STRETCH serves roughly 2,000.

The state program came about as a result of a 2002 voter initiative. Last academic year, it doled out approximately $550 million to districts throughout the state for before- and after-school programs. The state money comes with strict requirements, such as parental income thresholds and mandatory attendance requirements.

The federal government also gives money to states for these programs. California receives roughly $120 million from that pot, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

But that federal money is on the chopping block. The White House budget would cut the program entirely. The Senate budget maintains it, and the House proposal would cut it by nearly $100 million. Congress has until December to reconcile the different budgets.

California actually funds after-school programs better than most states, said Jodi Grant, executive director of Afterschool Alliance. The additional $550 million the state provides for after-school programs is more than what most other states provide to schools..

But there’s still a dearth of affordable after-school options for many working- and middle-class parents and the price tag on many programs remains an issue for many families because of California’s high cost of living.

The national average for weekly after-school care costs in 2014 was $113.50, according to an Afterschool Alliance survey. In California, parents paid an average of $126 per week.

Many districts have supplemental programs that parents can opt into at a price.

At San Diego Unified, there are non-district-run programs at 46 elementary and middle schools, in addition to PrimeTime. They’re run by organizations like the YMCA or SAY San Diego. The fees vary depending on factors like program hours, staffing costs, facility costs and how many days a week a family needs care.

More than 5,000 district students participate in those programs.

At Poway Unified, after-school care costs $250 per month, per child, with a 10 percent discount for additional children in a family. The district uses that money and San Diego County funding for low-income students to supplement what the state funds, said Barbara School, the district’s director of Extended Student Services. Roughly 4,500 children participate in the Poway’s after-school care program.

“We work very hard to keep the cost as low as we can for families,” Scholl said.

Chula Vista Elementary School District also chips in roughly $100,000 of its own money for after-school programs, Dynamic After School Hours, said Nancy Kerwin, district director of Student, Family and Community Services.

About 1,800 students use this program – almost the same amount as kids who participate in the state-funded program at the district. The YMCA-run program is free, and families are chosen via lottery.

At all three of the districts, many families face the same problems as Lewis – there isn’t enough space for everyone, even if families are willing to pay.

Lewis has been managing with help from her in-laws and by working from home part-time. Neither is an option for all parents.

Local Ed Stories

• I’ve taken an interest in how the personalized learning movement is taking hold in San Diego County. I wrote about efforts to transform Vista High and some of the common threads that run through the different personalized learning models I’ve been seeing throughout the county.

• San Ysidro School District was hit with a malware attack. (inewsource)

• Escondido Union School District is training employees on how to help students who’ve experienced trauma. (Union-Tribune)

• EdSource has a special report on homeless students in California. Some startling statistics: Since 2014, the number of homeless children in California has jumped by 20 percent, and about a quarter of schools in the state report they have no homeless students – a population that’s already significantly underreported.

More Ed News

• The Latino high school dropout rate has hit a new low, and college enrollment is at a record high, according to new report from Pew Research Center.

• Nine states talk about how they’re going to monitor chronic absenteeism. (Chalkbeat)

• A majority of U.S. teachers seem to support using state standards to guide instruction, but don’t support the state tests used to assess students. (RAND)

• The School Superintendents Association has published a bunch of resources to help educators address equity issues.

• U.S. schools are bracing for an influx of students from Puerto Rico, as the island’s schools won’t be able to re-open for weeks. (NPR, CNN)

• A new study finds that students report feeling more cared for and more interested in schoolwork when they have teachers who look like them. (Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis)

Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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