Using information to improve programs, even when money's tight.

Public school systems are hurting. As we reported recently, local governments are taking a double beatdown from declines in property tax revenue and state aid, and it's the schools that are taking many of the cuts in funding and employment. In times of tight budgets, maintaining levels of service can be incredibly challenging. After-school programs – already heavily reliant on outside funding – are put at even greater stress. But these programs don't have to fade away because of tough economic times. A new series of tip sheets from the Wallace Foundation offers ideas about how cities and schools can utilize data about their after-school offerings to maintain and improve programs.

Written by Jennifer Gill, the tip sheets make the case to cities and program providers that having more data about after-school programs will make them easier to run and improve, and therefore more effective as bargaining tools to secure more funding, even when money's tight.

The reports argue that cities, school districts and other program organizers need to start collecting and monitoring data about their after-school programs. Those that do will be able to realize these five ways of making their programs better:

  • Improve accountability
  • Map the need for and supply of after-school programs and funds
  • Assess and improve the quality of programs
  • Harness advocacy for obtaining more resources from governments or other funders
  • Share data with schools to help improve the education of students

Collecting and analyzing this information can have valuable by-products, according to Gill.

Relationships grow stronger between the various partners who play a role in improving learning opportunities for children. When a city’s youth agency and school district share data to analyze results of after-school participation, they’re breaking down walls and supporting each other’s work. When parents are invited to a focus group about after-school programs, they feel like their opinions matter. When providers have a say in how OST quality is defined and measured, they know their work is valued.

Money is power in so many ways when it comes to operating government and quasi-government services. But when the money's not there, knowledge can at least partially fill the gap.

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