Opinion Columns & Blogs

Norm Andrade: Keeping kids busy keeps them out of trouble

Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade is urging the California Legislature to support Senate Bill 645, authored by Sen. Loni Hanock, D-Berkeley, to put $54 million in this year’s budget to raise per-student funding of after-school programs from $7.50 to $8.50 per day.
Merced Police Chief Norm Andrade is urging the California Legislature to support Senate Bill 645, authored by Sen. Loni Hanock, D-Berkeley, to put $54 million in this year’s budget to raise per-student funding of after-school programs from $7.50 to $8.50 per day. tmiller@mercedsunstar.com

With more than 25 years of law enforcement under my belt, I have seen first-hand the value after-school programs bring to our community.

After-school programs offer safe, constructive activities to fill the critical hours after the school day ends, when kids are often unsupervised and more likely to get into trouble, use drugs and become victims of crime.

One survey of California youths found that kids left unsupervised three or more days per week are twice as likely as other kids to hang out with gang members, three times as likely to be engaged in criminal behavior and three times as likely to smoke marijuana.

After-school programs can transform “prime time for juvenile crime” into healthy learning time. Kids can get academic support, take part in enriching activities such as music, art and theater, and also take part in physical activities followed by nutritious snacks and even meals.

After-school programs reduce crime in the short term by keeping kids off the streets and away from gangs and others who encourage them to get into trouble. They also can help cut crime in the long term by keeping kids engaged in school, improving attendance and keeping them on track to graduate.

California has made a groundbreaking commitment with the nation’s largest investment in after-school programs – $550 million each year, totaling over $5 billion in the last decade. More than 4,000 high-need elementary and middle schools offer state-funded after-school programs, serving more than 400,000 students statewide each day. The California Department of Education even created an After School Division and has built quality infrastructure to support programs across the state, in both urban and rural communities.

Yet California’s success in developing positive after-school opportunities is in jeopardy due to the growing costs of these programs, including increases in the cost of living and minimum wage, at the same time funding has stalled. There have been no increases since 2006, with programs receiving just $7.50 per student per day.

Without sufficient funding, it becomes increasingly difficult to provide the kind of quality after-school programs students and their families want and need. Already nearly 90 percent of almost 600 programs surveyed report they have been negatively impacted by the flat rate. They have had to reduce academic and enrichment activities; they’ve had difficulties attracting and retaining quality staff; and they’ve had to offer less staff training.

Without a change, programs will have to continue to cut staff and resources, resulting in programs that fail to attract students or provide the kind of long-term benefits expected. Eventually, in worst-case scenarios, programs might not be able to continue operating and close their doors altogether.

In Merced County, we receive $6.5 million in state after-school funding each year for programs at 60 schools serving more than 4,800 students.

Increased funding is needed to sustain these successful after-school programs. I encourage the Legislature to support Senate Bill 645, authored by Sen. Loni Hanock, D-Berkeley, putting $54 million in this year’s budget to raise per-student funding from $7.50 to $8.50 per day. This will ensure that California maintains our nation-leading investment in after-school programs, a crime-prevention tool that can save lives, make our communities safer and help ensure kids stay on track to graduate and become productive members of society.

Norm Andrade is chief of police in Merced.

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