Out-of-school time (OST) program fees have long been a major barrier to low- and moderate-income families in Kentucky. Now, soaring costs as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic combined with few or no non fee-based options in many communities mean that students and families most in need may not be able to find an affordable program this summer.
According to data collected by the Afterschool Alliance from a representative sample of parents and guardians of school-age children in Kentucky between January 27 and March 17, 2020, parents in Kentucky spent on average $117.90 per week per child on afterschool programs and $152.70 per week per child on voluntary summer programs prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To put in perspective what this meant at the time for a typical working family in Kentucky with anywhere from one to multiple children of different ages, we gathered median family income data from the U.S. Census Bureau and cost estimates for center-based child care and OST enrollment to estimate the percent of income spent on child care and OST programming combined before COVID-19 for Kentucky families with children ages 0-13.
The chart below shows what percent of their total income different types of families likely had to set aside before the pandemic to enroll their children of various ages full-time in center-based daycare and/or OST programs. It also includes data from Wave 5 of the Afterschool Alliance’s Afterschool in the Time of COVID-19 online provider survey, conducted June 2-28, 2021, showing what percent of OST providers across the nation were reporting cost increases for in-person services during the summer of 2021.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), child care (which includes OST care/programming for school-age children) is considered affordable when it costs families no more than 7% of their household income. Under this assumption, there was no scenario before the pandemic where fee-based OST programming was considered affordable for a Kentucky family making at or below the median family income from 2015-2019, as calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau for single female-headed and dual-headed households. With the cost of child care and OST soaring as a result of COVID-19 without an equivalent rise in median family income, we would expect that working families dependent on these programs are being stretched more than ever before.
Even though participation in afterschool and summer learning programs has been touted as a solution to combat learning loss and help kids recover, socially and emotionally, from the disruptions to in-person learning caused by the pandemic, OST programs in Kentucky, like child care centers, have traditionally operated under a fee-for-service model, with the exception of federally-funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLCs), Boys & Girls Clubs, and a small number of non-fee-based programs operated by nonprofit organizations including Save the Children and Partners for Education at Berea College.
According to results of Wave 5 of the Afterschool Alliance’s Afterschool in the Time of COVID-19 online provider survey, 43% of program providers reported that their cost-per-child per week for in-person services over the summer increased in 2021. Among programs who reported an increase in cost, nearly half reported an increase of more than 10%. In the coming year, many independent providers in Kentucky and across the United States fear that they will have to continue to raise fees unless other revenue sources are made available.
With non-fee-based providers making up just a small fraction of Kentucky’s total OST supply, it is paramount that local education agencies (LEAs) develop a solid summer learning plan using American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds so that low- and moderate-income families in their districts have access heading into the summer of 2022. Since the New Year, many schools have had to return to virtual learning due to unprecedented staffing shortages and students absences as a result of the latest COVID-19 surge caused by the omicron variant. This means kids will be heading into summer following a third straight school year plagued by extended school closures.
For a student who has fallen behind, participation in a high-quality summer learning program can mean the difference between them starting the 2022-2023 school year on track or in need of remedial services and other costly interventions. For low- and moderate-income families across Kentucky with school-age children under 13, their ability to remain in the workforce over the summer will likely hinge on whether or not they can pay summer program fees. This as our analysis has shown, this is far less likely for single female-headed families and families with both school-age children under 13 and children ages 0-5.
To help address this issue, the Kentucky Out-of-School Alliance will continue to raise awareness of these barriers and offer support to state and local leaders on developing sustainable partnerships to improve access to improve the supply of low- and no-cost programs across our Commonwealth.