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Funding key after-school programs

Published (3/13/2009)
By Kris Berggren
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Northfield middle school student Champange Eiklenborg shows her improved grades March 5 to the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division, during testimony on a bill that would provide funding for after-school programs. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)Northfield students told the House Early Childhood Finance and Policy Division March 5 that after-school programs significantly enhance their academic and personal lives, and encouraged members to keep them funded.

High school student Ruth Amerman said she found a safe haven in the Northfield Union of Youth, a program also called The Key, after her father died four years ago.

“I found my home-base shattered,” Amerman said through tears. “Around that time I started coming down to The Key and just started hanging out. What I found was the security and sense of community I had lost.”

Middle-schooler Champange Eiklenborg said a mentor there helped her handle bullying and improve poor grades. She shared her report card showing she’d improved from “Ds” in math and science to “almost an A” in math and a “C” in science in the past year.

Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood) sponsors HF378, which would appropriate $5 million for the Education Department’s After-School Community Learning Grants. Slawik said federal stimulus money could defray at least part of the appropriation, while a McKnight Foundation match of $1 million could supplement a full appropriation.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman called after-school programs “my crime-fighting strategy, my economic development strategy, my community development strategy,” and said they “help protect investments in early childhood education.”

Opponents balked at the bill’s price tag and said such spending should be backed by solid evidence, not stories. “It is very easy to pay for good intentions and it’s another thing to actually have the program deliver them,” said Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina).

These are “nice, but unaffordable, luxury type of programs when we have great needs in K through 12 during the school day,” said Karen Effrem, EdWatch analyst.

The bill was held over for possible inclusion in an omnibus early childhood finance bill. Its companion, SF855, sponsored by Sen. Sandy Rummel (DFL-White Bear Lake), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division.

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