Funding for District OST programming matters. It matters to kids who treasure their neighborhood “third places” (not home, not school) where they learn to write poetry, perform in plays, play chess and build robots and businesses. OST matters to parents, because the length of a work day rarely aligns with the length of a school day. OST funds are vital to folks working off-hours, because they are often unable to cover the full cost of enrichment programs. OST matters to young men and women not yet old enough to vote but preparing to live as independent adults. If we want to support upward mobility, if we want to change the root causes of poverty and school-to-prison pipelines, then OST funding matters.
The preeminent but historically troubled source of funding for OST programs in the District was the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp. Dissolution was announced last April as investigations into financial (mis)management continued. Now, a proposed inter-agency partnership tasked with administering $8.9 million in OST funding should prove capable of generating steady increases to match community needs. The D.C. Council is considering the Office on Youth Outcomes and Grants Establishment Act 0f 2016.
The bill is the result of community-driven collaboration including councilmembers, government agency leaders representing education and health and human services, funders such as the Meyer Foundation and local non-profits such as the Young Women’s Project, DC-AYA, RISE-DC and the Children’s Law Center. Public hearings are underway. This legislation is meant to bolster shared problem-solving but not overtake or bypass ongoing community collaboration.
The bill would increase accountability and transparency by separating grantmakers from those who determine quality criteria for grants and programs. Those scoring applications and administering grants would still assess applicants and grantees, but they would not determine the standards and metrics of quality; rather, these standards would be determined by the Commission on Youth Outcomes.
The Commission on Youth Outcomes would be made up of a diverse group that would include District government, community non-profits, funding organizations and program participants. Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles has voiced support for youth representation on the commission, as have councilmembers and major stakeholders such as DC-AYA and the Meyer Foundation. Alongside their adult counterparts, youth leaders would represent the different wards, ethnicities, races, sexual orientations and socio-economic backgrounds at the heart of a truly inclusive District.
To ensure that the bill delivers on its promise to the District’s youth, we can and should engage with the process. We should shape it as it evolves, putting people first, forging a new public trust. As D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) said, “It is clear to me that our local organizations bring a lot to the table, and that we should support them because of their long-standing ties to the community. If that means we need to give them extra support to improve their capacity … so be it. There is definitely a role for local branches of national groups, too … [the] legislation that is moving forward will provide … an [OST] system that is well-funded, transparent, and data-driven, matching programs to…needs. Families and students want access to quality … the work we are doing will help us better meet that demand…across the city.”
Catalina Talero is a chair of the Commission for Latino Community Development, a member of D.C. for Democracy, and a Fulbright scholar in education.