Monday, February 6, 2012

Longer School Day Could Squeeze Funding for Chicago Afterschool Bike Programs

The citywide discussion of the extended Chicago Public Schools (CPS) school day is making waves on playgrounds and in coffee shops this otherwise mild winter. You can overhear parents everywhere arguing about the pros and cons of the potential 7.5 hour day for their kids.

Love the plan or hate it, a less noted effect of the longer day is the possible loss of grant funds to nonprofit afterschool programs. To be eligible for many sources of funding they have to meet specific criteria, including a minimum number of afterschool program hours for our city's neediest children. The longer school day may make them no longer able to reach their minimum hours in the time remaining. This is a less talked about but potentially grim byproduct of the proposed 7.5 hour day.

Many nonprofit afterschool programs receive grant contracts to provide a specific number of hours per day or week for public school kids in Chicago. Afterschool basketball, biking and tutoring programs now facing a shorter timeframe to work with students are grappling with a risk to their funding that could result from shorter times providing activities to students of CPS.

Youth bike programs like West Town and Blackstone, afterschool tutoring and bike clubs (among others) could feel the squeeze on both grant funds and teaching time from the shorter hours. West Town and similar programs keep young people out of trouble and teach cycling skills and mechanics to kids of all ages. Everyone in the city from the mayor on down values these programs. What's more, in this year of phenomenal leaps forward in public input into our city's 8-80 network, we need these afterschool organizations to grow, in order to help families and kids learn to use the transformative new Neighborhood Greenways and protected lanes emerging in Chicago.

What does the prospect of the longer day mean for youth cycling education in Chicago? This week Chicargobike will explore how the longer day could help and hurt the free youth cycling programs in our fair city and how families might be able to help our bike nonprofits weather the potential changes coming to CPS next year.

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