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Lawmakers defer proposal to boost funding for public after-school programs

children school playground generic elementary
Sophia McCullough

A bill to fund the expansion of public after-school programs in the state was deferred on Thursday.

Despite overwhelming support at the Legislature this session, the Senate Ways and Means Committee deferred House Bill 69, which is the last surviving measure that would provide additional funding to public after-school programs.

The measure would give another $2.5 million to the state education department's REACH program for middle school students to experience additional opportunities in academic, arts and athletics.

WAM chair and the committee deferred the bill to get more details on which schools would benefit from the measure. Advocates believed the bill was dead.

"I was a little disappointed that the bill [died]," said Paula Adams, executive director of a different nonprofit known as Hawaiʻi Afterschool Alliance. "There's so much need for after-school programs. Especially for middle and intermediate school kids."

Adams told HPR the state only invests $500,000 toward public after-school programs.

"It doesn't go far, right? We need to have a safe place, there is the student-adult ratio that we need to respect, there are also costs associated with activities and professional development," she said.

After this story was published Monday, HPR received an email from Dela Cruz's office saying a hearing was scheduled for this week.

According to Hawaiʻi Afterschool Alliance, the state relies mostly on federal or private funding for after-school support. State contributions only amount to roughly 1.3%, according to their recent report. Compared to other states, California contributes more than 80% to its programs, New York 50% and Alaska 17%.

Coming out of the pandemic, education and state leaders saw after-school programs as another vehicle to address learning loss. Specifically, programs helped students with their mental and social needs.

Advocates say 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. is "at-risk" time for students. Yet the final bell for most public schools rings by 3 p.m., and generally earlier for elementary and middle schools.

Nearly two years after in-person learning returned full-time, the impacts of virtual learning linger for many students.

"We see a lot of need in the kids, especially supporting their mental health development," Adams said.

"Talking to people working directly with the kids, they are expressing their concern about his the kids came out of the pandemic. You have to think some of these kids were in their own room for a whole year. They were learning through a computer, and interacting with people through a screen," Adams said.

Corrected: April 4, 2023 at 11:57 AM HST
This story has been updated with comments from Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz's office, and the current status of the legislation.
Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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