The Districts Dime

Unlocking Opportunities: Using Afterschool and Summer Programs to Help Low-Income Students Succeed

October 17th, 2014 | by Soumya Bhat

Afterschool and summer programs offer hands-on and enrichment learning that goes beyond what students learn during the school day. These “expanded learning” programs improve academic achievement, keep children safe and supervised, and help working families. Children who participate consistently in quality programs have better school attendance and more interest in school, and they are less likely to be held back.

Unfortunately, there are not enough quality afterschool and summer programs to meet the needs of DC’s at-risk children. DCFPI highlights the programs currently offered to DC children and youth, and ways to improve access, in its new series, Unlocking Opportunities. Here is what we recommend:

  • Expand quality afterschool and summer programs. The District should aim to offer programs for all low-income children. Programs should offer sufficient activities during the school week and in the summer to be meaningful, and they should align with the school day curriculum.
  • Adequately fund summer school within the school funding formula. A change this year folded summer school funding into a new pool of resources for at-risk students that can be used for many services. It will be important to monitor how those funds are spent to make sure schools continue to offer high quality summer school programs.
  • Streamline funding and reporting requirements for the District’s expanded learning programs. Creating a common application and a common data collection system to measure outcomes for the city’s many expanded learning programs will make it easier for community-based providers to focus on quality programming, and for policymakers and the public to monitor programs.
  • Continue to collect centralized data and evaluate expanded learning programs. Funding decisions for summer and school year expanded learning programs should be driven by assessments of where needs are greatest and by evaluations of how programs are working to meet citywide goals.

To read the complete issue brief on expanded learning programs in the District, click here.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

Leave a reply to this post

More Than Dignity: Safe and Decent Shelter Is Critical to Limiting the Harm to Children from Being Homeless

October 15th, 2014 | by Kate Coventry

A bill to clarify that families who become homeless are sheltered in apartments or private rooms, and that they can stay there until they find suitable housing, is known as the “dignity bill,” but it is about much more than that. By creating some stability at a time of crisis, this legislation will help parents get back on their feet and help children avoid emotional and behavioral problems that get in the way of doing well at school. 4-30-14-Housing-blog-f1

The Dignity for Homeless Families bill was introduced after the experience last winter when the District started sheltering homeless families in recreation centers and required families to reapply for shelter every day. At the recreation centers, lights were often left on all night, and families had only flimsy partitions that did little to block out noise and strangers. Two superior court judges ruled that the placements were a violation of the law and that they posed significant risks of harm to children. The legal challenges continue.

Chaotic environments—characterized by noise, crowding, lack of routine, and unplanned changes—can hurt a child’s cognitive functioning and lead to behavioral problems. Housing instability and frequent moves create the same problems. Families who had to reapply for shelter each day last year couldn’t look for work or search for permanent housing.

Sheltering families in apartments or private rooms, by contrast, can help families maintain family routines and shut out noise and strangers. Allowing families to have continuous access to safe and decent shelter, without having to reapply daily, would reduce instability and allow parents to focus on looking for work and regaining housing.

 So while giving homeless families a private place to stay is about dignity, it also is about making sure that homelessness doesn’t cause long-term problems for parents and children.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here

Leave a reply to this post

Changes to the Alliance Will Help Vulnerable Residents Get the Health Care They Need

October 10th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

Burdensome application rules in one of the District’s key health insurance programs, the Healthcare Alliance, have led many residents to lose their health insurance and go without needed care. It is a blemish on the city’s otherwise national leadership in extending health insurance to low-income residents. That’s why the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and other advocates are proposing changes to keep residents on the program and ensure that they get the health care that they need.

10-10-14 Alliance

The Alliance provides health insurance to people with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line and who are not eligible for Medicaid.The District adopted stringent requirements in 2011 – that all Alliance participants recertify every six months through an in-person interview at a service center – and since then enrollment has dropped sharply (see Figure 1). New data from the Department of Healthcare Finance suggests that the six-month interview requirement created a barrier to getting services.

Many eligible residents, especially those who are caring for children and/or have full-time work, are unable to meet the requirement. Beyond that, many families have to make multiple trips to complete their interview, because of a lack of language assistance, long lines, and delays in staff processing information.

The Department of Healthcare Finance asked the community for suggestions to redesign the program. DCFPI, with consensus from other advocates, recommends:

Move from a six-month face-to-face interview to an annual interview.  A 12-month recertification period will help Alliance members who must take time off of work to do the interview. It will also help program staff by lessening the number of clients they have to see and improving their ability to assist individual cases.

Allow community health workers to assist with parts of the recertification. If Alliance beneficiaries can complete their recertification with trained Assisters or Community Health workers, the applications will have fewer problems, be processed faster, and reduce the need for multiple trips for one recertification.

Allow Alliance participants to apply online. DC has a new online public benefits system for Medicaid that uses many data sources to verify identity and residency. Yet the Alliance program still uses a paper application. Fully incorporating the Alliance into the electronic application process would mean that many beneficiaries would never need to visit a service center in person.

These changes would prevent eligible residents from unnecessarily losing health insurance, thus building on the city’s commendable efforts to ensure that DC residents have access to health care.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

Leave a reply to this post

Tackling Poverty Is Key to Improving Educational Outcomes in DC

October 9th, 2014 | by Jenny Reed and Soumya Bhat

The District’s approach to boosting student achievement needs to go beyond improving classroom instruction to also address the challenges that poor children bring with them to school. Low-income children are more likely than others to show up to school hungry or malnourished; exposed to trauma, stress and violence; affected by family or neighborhood instability; or coping with severe health problems.    

A new series of reports from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, Unlocking Opportunities, highlights how poverty affects children and their educational outcomes, and what DC schools are doing – and should be doing – to address it. The reports find that the District offers a number of programs to help low-income students succeed in the classroom, but there are still large gaps that need to be filled. 10.9.14 Unlocking Opportunities

Fortunately, services provided through schools can alleviate poverty’s impact – unlocking opportunities and allowing all students to reach their potential. From increasing attendance to raising grades and test scores, to decreasing discipline and behavior problems, supports that go beyond classroom instruction can remove the barriers to learning that low-income children face.

And school is an ideal location to deliver services. Children and families are more likely to take advantage of health and other services when they are located in a school. Staff delivering these services can work directly with teachers to let them know where to refer students and to offer advice on addressing problem behaviors in their classroom.

The District offers many programs that help low-income students — helping students with mental health challenges, improving access to primary care, and providing nutritious meals, for example. But there are still large gaps. The number of homeless students is rising, but federal funding is low and falling. Approximately 5,000 DC children don’t have access to needed mental health services. And some school nurses and social workers have caseloads well beyond industry standards.

The District has a unique opportunity to expand non-instructional services for low-income students through the addition this year of an at-risk weight to the school funding formula. With $2,000 of additional funds per at-risk student, both DC Public Schools and public charter schools have new resources to help low-income students succeed.

The complete Unlocking Opportunities series takes a deeper look at services for students who are homeless, mental health services, expanded learning programs, schools as community hubs, parent engagement services and health and nutrition services in schools. Each of these briefs explores ways to remove the barriers to learning that poverty creates. Our final recommendations summarize important steps DC should take to lessen the impact that poverty has on children and thus boost educational outcomes in DC.

To read the complete Unlocking Opportunities series, click here.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

Leave a reply to this post

DC Council: Don’t Weaken a Bill That Will Develop Affordable Housing across DC

October 7th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers and Jenny Reed

The DC Council will vote today on legislation that could use disposition of DC-owned land to create new affordable housing throughout the District—provided the Council doesn’t approve two potential amendments that would significantly weaken the bill. These amendments could remove transparency and accountability from the land disposition process and make it easier for developers to reduce the length of time new housing must remain affordable.

The Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Act of 2013 would allow DC’s public land to be sold below market value and in return would require developers to make a portion of the new housing built there affordable. This smart approach pairs private and public resources toward the creation of badly needed low-cost housing, creates mixed-income communities, and helps low-income residents live in rapidly developing areas with greater chances of economic opportunity.

 The bill would use public land value to generate mixed-income communities with a substantial amount of affordable housing. It would require 30 percent of new housing built near public transportation to be affordable. Elsewhere, 20 percent of the units would need to be affordable.

10-7-14 Public Land

For rental properties, a quarter of the affordable units would be for people with incomes under $29,000 for a family of three (30 percent of AMI), and the rest would be for residents making up to $48,300 for a family of three (50 percent of AMI) For homeowner properties, the affordable units would be split between residents earning under $48,300 and those earning under $78,200 for a family of three (80 percent of AMI)..

Yet, two potential amendments could significantly weaken the bill by:

 Removing the Chief Financial Officer’s independent evaluation. One amendment would

 allow the mayor to waive the affordable housing requirements for any given project, without any documentation to justify it. In contrast, the current bill entrusts DC’s CFO to provide an independent, expert assessment of whether a development can meet the affordability requirements. Without it, public land dispositions would lack transparency and there would be no way to ensure that affordable housing is maximized. The CFO has testified that they can administer the review process.

Allowing affordable housing units to disappear over time. Another amendment would allow the time period for affordability requirements to be shortened by the mayor. In DC and across the country, communities struggle to replace affordable housing when requirements end after 10 or 20 years, before the end of a building’s useful life. The bill recognizes that the District’s land is a public asset, and it should be leveraged to require housing built through land dispositions to remain affordable for the life of the building.

The District’s publicly owned land presents a unique opportunity to use the rapid growth in property values to create a greater number of affordable units. By offering land at a discount, the District can create affordable housing units without using a tax dollars. In return, low-income residents get to live in mixed-income areas that have greater economic opportunities such as access to job centers, higher-quality schools, and greater public amenities. 

 That is why the DC Council should vote yes on this bill and no to the proposed amendments that would significantly weaken its ability to create desperately-needed low-cost units across DC.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

Leave a reply to this post
« Previous PageNext Page »