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Parents wonder what's next for after-school programs after CMSD cuts

Orchard STEM School, a Cleveland Metropolitan School District elementary school on Cleveland's West Side, has an afterschool program that could be affected by budget cuts.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
Orchard STEM School, a Cleveland Metropolitan School District elementary school on Cleveland's West Side, hosts an after-school program that could be affected by budget cuts.

In the wake of Cleveland Metropolitan School District announcing in February it will cut all funding it had provided during the pandemic to after-school programs not operated by the school district, dozens of programs and hundreds of parents and students who used the programs are now wondering what comes next.

Heidi Morgan, 52, takes care of her two grandchildren, who go to CMSD's Mary Church Terrell Elementary School.

Morgan usually gets off work around six, roughly three hours after they get out of school.

In the time between, the children go to the after-school program at the school operated by the nonprofit Horizon Education Centers, which is one of the programs affected by the cuts.

"That after-school programming was like a lifesaver for a multitude of reasons, for the hours of my job and for the money that I don't have to pay a babysitter," she said.

Morgan is raising them on a single salary as a nurse at an outpatient recovery center, while her daughter is recovering from a drug addiction. She said the after-school program gives her peace of mind that the children are safe while she's not there. Before she got them into the Horizon program, she was either taking her grandchildren to work with her or paying a babysitter.

"And then there's no sense in me working because I'm paying her (babysitter) more than what I'm making an hour for the two kids, you know?" she said.

She said she's not sure what she'll do if the program is canceled.

Dave Smith, executive director of Horizon Education Centers, operates five of the 93 after-school sites that will be affected by the cuts. The program at Mary Church Terrell faces an uncertain future as the CMSD funding expires and as the nonprofit is in the final year of a state grant that had funded it, he said.

Dubbed "Out of School Time/Expanded Learning" programs, the district funds 93 sites this fiscal year through about $17 million in pandemic relief funds.

CMSD provided about $10 million in the previous fiscal year, and about $300,000 the year prior, but had not funded them at all before that point. In announcing the cuts last month due to an incoming budget deficit, CMSD CEO Warren Morgan noted that the district still will offer its full suite of district-operated after-school programs, things like sports, band and clubs.

He also said the district has been in communication with the providers to see how it can help them find a path forward.

Smith explained that many of the free 93 after-school programs got started with help from the pandemic relief money from the district, and are now facing an uncertain future. Most after-school programs in Cleveland before the pandemic were funded by Ohio's 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants, he said.

About 40 after-school sites in Cuyahoga County received new or continuing grants through that program this year, receiving roughly $150,000 to $200,000 per program, according to the Ohio Department of Education's website, although not all of those grants went to CMSD sites.

Frankeisha Bland has two daughters who go to Orchard STEM School and go to Open Doors Academy's after-school program there.

Her daughters like the program, and it provides a lot: socialization with peers and adults, food, help with homework and field trips, including to a Cleveland Cavaliers game soon, she said.

"She (one of her daughters) passed her state test, and that was really big because she also has an IEP (individualized education plan), and they (staff) are on top of them with homework or if they have to study," she explained. "They're involved with the teachers so they know what's going on."

She said if the Orchard after-school program closes, she worries about the impact on other parents — especially for those for whom childcare costs are out-of-reach. She said she at least can pick her kids up directly from school because she works nights, as an emergency dispatcher.

"I'm more so worried about the mothers who work later into the evening, what are they going to do if the programs are cut?" she said. "Not saying that it's just used as a daycare, but it helps them. Are they going to have to quit their jobs now?"

Open Doors Academy's Orchard program received a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant from the state this fiscal year, but it's not clear what the future will hold for it. Officials didn't immediately respond to a request for comment sent Friday.

Smith, who works with a coalition of the 93 after-school providers affected by the CMSD funding cuts, said the coalition understands there's likely little or no money available from Cleveland City Council and the school district. They are hoping for their support, however, as they seek to advocate for more federal and state funding for afters-chool programs in the Cleveland area.

"But right now, there's no lifeline or anything out there for the overall system," he said.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.