FLORIDA KEYS -- A loss of funding for afterschool programs is leaving working parents with few options for their elementary-aged children.
For the past five years, Key Largo School has used funds from the 21st Century Grant, which is federal money directed through a state application process, in order to provide afterschool programs for students. The grant expired at the end of last school year, and administrators were told last week that it will not be renewed.
Key Largo School Principal Julia Hoar said 300 of her 900 students last year took advantage of the free afterschool academic program. She said teachers and paraprofessionals were paid under the grant money.
"It was first opened to students who needed help academically," she said.
Nancy Romain, a grant writer for the Monroe County School District, said she doesn't know why the county was left out of the grant program. When she receives comments from the grant reviewers, it should shed some light, she said.
But Romain said she told principals there was a possibility the money would not come through.
"There's no guarantee," she said. "You take your chances."
Hoar has begun meeting with YMCA officials to put together an afterschool program. She said the Upper Keys group seemed receptive. But she said she doesn't expect the YMCA to match what the grant terms and doesn't know how many of her teachers might participate.
On top of losing the federal grant, a new state funding formula for subsidizing childcare centers is expected to cut $206,000 from Monroe County's previous take, potentially further complicating afterschool care.
The state Office of Early Learning altered its formula in response to a state Auditor General's report last December that determined the existing formula was unfair. The results of the new funding system, which took effect July 1, have given more money to counties that had a budget surplus of tax dollars last year and no waiting list for families, while leaving Miami-Dade and Monroe counties with deep cuts.
According to numbers provided by the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe Counties, funding to cover 46 children will immediately be cut from Monroe County, and money for 359 will be eliminated over a six-year period.
"The time to get involved is now," said Evelio Torres, president of the Miami Dade/Monroe division of ELC. At an information meeting last week in Key Largo, Torres urged residents to ask state leaders to change the formula.
"There's an opportunity for us to not lose any more money," he said.
Meanwhile, Henry Boza, principal of Glynn Archer School in Key West, is facing the same grant problem as KLS.
"We're in the process of figuring if we can do some afterschool program," Boza said. "The kids have somewhere to be."
Boza has scheduled a meeting with the Boys and Girls Club to figure out if it can provide some relief to parents who need a safe place for their children to stay.
Of his 388 students, 78 received afterschool supervision under the 21st Century Grant.
Boza, too, is worried about the ramifications of the subsized childcare funding formula.
"Should you send a 9-year-old home alone?" Boza said. "I say no."
Staff writer Gwen Filosa contributed to this report.