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NY1 Online: Numbers Behind NY1's Coverage of After-School Programs for Middle-School Students

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NY1's story questioning whether the budget adds up for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s after-school expansion plan involved days of research and math. Some of you wonks out there understandably wanted to understand what was behind the two-minute made-for-TV version, so here are some background notes on what went into NY1's reporting:

There are about 222,610 middle-school students in the city. The de Blasio administration is estimating that about 120,000 may participate in a universally available after school system. They say (and NY1's research seems to confirm) that nobody knows exactly how many middle school students are currently in after school programs in the city. Some of those students may switch to the free program, if they are paying now, but ultimately it’s unclear how many students who will need additional funding. It will, however, be the majority of the students.

In terms of students already in city-funded programs with secure funding going forward – NY1 estimates it's about 11,000 (9,700 in Out of School Time, a few hundred more in Beacon and Cornerstone programs – which report the number of elementary and middle school attendees combined).

Given that limitation, NY1 worked with the 120,000 number but also included calculations for 100,000 students. None of these per-student estimates include the administrative or facilities costs.

De Blasio proposed budget for after school expansion: $190 million

Department of Youth and Community Development Out of School Time (OST) program:

This is the city's main channel for after-school funding. The best way of understanding the cost is to look at the latest Request for Proposals.

"The anticipated price per participant paid by DYCD will be within the following ranges: Elementary: $3,000 - $3,200; Middle: $1,900 - $2,100." (PDF page 42) So for 120,000 students middle school students, it would cost between $228 million and $252 million. For 100,000 middle school students, it would cost between $190 million and $210 million.

But providers say the primary driver of the cost difference is the hours provided. For middle school OST: "Programs would provide services on at least two weekdays, for a minimum of 8 hours per week." For elementary school OST: "A minimum of 3 hours per day after school, Monday to Friday, generally from 3 pm to 6 pm for a minimum of 36 weeks." (PDF page 50) So the middle school rate isn't an accurate indicator of what the mayor's plan would cost.

What de Blasio proposed is what DYCD is providing for elementary school kids now – five days a week, three hours a day. Taking the lower end of that range, at $3,000 a student, 120,000 kids would cost $360 million, while 100,000 kids would cost $300 million.

ACS after-school vouchers:

The city gives thousands of vouchers for students to attend ACS after-school programs. In 2013, the average cost of those vouchers for elementary and middle-school kids was $2,748. For 120,000 kids, that would cost $329.76 million. For 100,000 kids, it would cost $274.8 million.

Wallace Foundation Report:

An in-depth research paper on the cost of high quality after school in several cities, including NYC.

To make it simple, go to page 87. NYC's average cost of out-of-pocket expenditures for elementary- and middle-school kids was $15 a day. For 180 days, that would be $2,700 a seat. For 120,000 kids, that would be $324 million. For 100,000 kids, that would be $270 million. Put through the federal government's inflation calculator, that 2009 rate becomes $351.82 million for 120,000 kids in 2013.

They make it easier to come up with a more precise figure with this “Cost of Quality After School” calculator.

For a middle-school, school-year-only program in Manhattan run by a community-based organization with both academics and extra-curriculars with about 200 students (all as according to de Blasio plan) and an unknown student-to-teacher ratio, the calculator estimates the median cost-per-slot would be $5,819. For 120,000 kids, that would be $698.28 million. For 100,000 kids, that would be $581.9 million. The low end of their estimate is $4,932.20 a slot. For 120,000 kids, that would be $591.864 million. For 100,000 kids, that would be $493.22 million.

Changes to After-School Costs:

The city used to spend less per student on OST. In 2012, the average cost for elementary and middle school seats was $1,721. But, after studying the program for three years, “no significant differences were found between participants and matched nonparticipants on the measures of educational performance that are maintained by the Department of Education.” In other words, there was no academic gain in the group of students who attended after school.

So the City restructured the program, based on research and feedback, and decided it needed to spend more per student. Here’s the IBO on the change: “The new RFP programs will offer a more structured, higher quality, and more costly service model based on findings from the program evaluations, studies, and input from various stakeholders for both elementary and middle school students… Each provider will be required to hire an educational specialist to implement curricula and develop activity plans. The new programs emphasize youth development, social and emotional learning, quality programming and staffing, stronger school partnerships, and parental/caregiver engagement and will include a greater focus on strengthening literacy and numeracy skills, along with increased parental engagement. Programs are also required to stimulate interest in "STEM": science, technology, engineering, and math.”

What the de Blasio administration says:

Their calculations were based on The After School Corporation (TASC) numbers.

This is what TASC sent NY1, on behalf of City Hall. "You asked what our cost per student is for a structured, daily after-school program where kids get a blend of academic help and enrichment. The cost ranges from $1,600 to $2,000 per student (that covers staff and supplies), depending on three key factors: how it’s staffed, number of children participating in a program, and different program elements. For example, if a program is partly staffed by AmeriCorps service members (who work as volunteers with a stipend), the program would be on the lower end of the cost range."

After our story aired, City Hall sent us this from Phil Walzak, press secretary for the mayor: "Our plan uses the same model employed by The After-School Corporation, one of our highest quality programs. We are confident we can serve middle schoolers well within that budget framework--$1,600 per seat--and we are actively coordinating City agencies to execute on that approach for the coming school year."

Conclusion:

Of all of the numbers I came across (and this is actually just a sampling), the absolute lowest end of the lowest range for per-student cost is the number the de Blasio administration based their plan on. It may be possible to provide high quality after school at $1,600 a seat, but only if every program is large (smaller programs are more expensive) and a considerable number of staff are volunteers, receiving stipends from the federal government rather than wages from the city.

Obviously all of these calculations are extremely rough but almost all yield estimates considerably higher than what the administration is estimating, by tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. NY1 has asked City Hall aides for their detailed calculations or the report they based their estimation on, but has not received anything more than the statement above.

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