BOSTON – Lawmakers have given a huge boost in funding for after-school programs though the state budget, nearly doubling amount of grant money made available to school districts.
A provision in the state's $43.1 billion budget, which was approved by the House and Senate on Monday, would increase funding for after-school grants to more than $8.2 million this year.
That's a sizable increase over Gov. Charlie Baker's proposal to fund the program, which received about $4.2 million this past year.
Supporters say the additional funding is needed to help alleviate a backlog of thousands of students who are waiting to get into state-subsidized after-school programs.
"I don't know that this will end the backlog, but it certainly will help a lot of kids," said Patrick Stanton, executive director of the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership, which has pushed for years to increase funding for the programs. "Every kid who goes through these programs benefits academically, but there just hasn't been enough funding to go around."
Last year, a report by a legislative committee found that while an estimated 200,000 public school students are enrolled in after-school programs, an estimated 362,312, or about 44 percent of all students in the state, would sign up for a program if they had the option.
The report noted the biggest problem is a lack of money to meet demand from low-income families who can't afford to pay for private programs.
"Everyone recognizes the great impacts that after-school programs have on student achievement," said Sen. Brendan Crighton, D-Lynn, a co-chair of the committee who has pushed for increased funding for after-school programs. "This budget will expand access to these programs and help reduce the long wait lists."
Nationally more than 8.4 million children participate in after-school programs, while another 18.5 million are waiting to get into one, according to the nonprofit Afterschool Alliance.
Education officials point out that funding for after-school programs has increased in recent years, while waiting lists of students seeking help have shrunken.
In October, 7,530 students ages 6 to 13 were on a wait list, compared to 8,864 a year ago, according to the state Department of Early Education and Care.
Locally, Lawrence had the highest number in the state on the waiting list as of last month, or nearly 600 school-age students.
Haverhill has 156 on the list, Gloucester 124, Beverly 41 and Salem 72. Newburyport had only seven students on a wait list, according to the agency.
Many communities have public-private partnerships with regional YMCA’s, Boys and Girls Clubs, or other nonprofit groups that offer state-subsidized after-school programs.
Baker has 10 days to sign or veto sections of the budget. Even if the governor reduces the amount of after-school funding, lawmakers have more than enough votes to override him.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.