State

Latchkey Program's end strands students, parents

Lisa Warburton is a single mom and full-time college student who holds down a 30-hour-a-week job. So, she sends her 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, to a child-care program before and after school at John Muir Elementary.

When Warburton received word a few weeks ago that Modesto City Schools was canceling the program because state funding was eliminated, her heart sank.

"The program was my lifeline. I didn't have to worry about (Hannah's) security, her safety. I knew she was in a loving environment and the staff have become our family," Warburton said. "My daughter is devastated."

The termination of the Latchkey Program has left hundreds of families without free or low-priced child care before and after school and during holiday breaks. The program is for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Officials said they had no choice when the state drastically cut education spending. Politicians contend Latchkey is redundant because schools offer a free academic after-school program, but only certain schools with low-income families qualify for that program, said Pat Portwood, associate superintendent at Modesto City Schools.

"We're trying to be proactive and meet with parents to create a child-care program that's prepaid," she said. Portwood said the district hopes to have a similar program this fall, but it might not be offered at the same schools children attend.

Other area school districts offer before- and after-school programs, but most of those are tied to academic and intervention activities or charge parents a fee.

Latchkey served about 250 students at eight Modesto elementary schools: Muir, Beard, Franklin, Fremont, Lakewood, Martone, Rose Avenue and Sonoma, Portwood said. Some students can go to the low-income after-school program, but Lakewood, Sonoma, Rose Avenue and Fremont don't qualify. However, those schools will offer Latchkey to kindergartners.

In addition to the displaced students, teachers and aides could be out of jobs with the end of Latchkey, but Portwood said the district's expanded Head Start program should provide enough jobs for those displaced.

Last school year, Latchkey cost Modesto City Schools $762,000. Of that, $307,000 was paid through parent fees and $455,000 from the state, officials said.

Warburton, who is in the Modesto Junior College nursing program, is seeking other child care, but noted she does not earn enough to pay for traditional child care.

"This is affecting people's livelihoods," she said. "If I don't have child care, I can't work. If I can't work, I can't pay my bills. If I can't pay my bills, I don't have a roof over my and my daughter's heads."

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

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