Governor’s proposal could end Community Education

WKU freshman Mariah Williams helps Khup Sang, 7, on his vocabulary homework during the Dishman-McGinnis after school program Monday, Feb. 5. “I’ve always had a passion for kids. I love teaching them and watching them grow,” Williams said. “After school programs help the students make friends. There are times kids don’t do homework at home and this is an opportunity for them to do that and extend their learning.”

The operation of a not-for-profit organization that provides care for children and enrichment activities for adults is in jeopardy of being cut because of the governor’s proposed budget.

The elimination of Community Education is part of Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget which includes the elimination of 70 programs.

The before and after-school programs benefit more than 1,200 children in the Bowling Green-Warren County area, providing homework help, supervision, afternoon snacks and enriching activities to the children of working parents, many of whom have full-time jobs that prevent them from being able to be at home with their children directly before and after school.

Patti Minter, history professor at WKU and Democratic candidate running for 20th district House seat, sent her son Alex to the after-school program at McNeill Elementary from kindergarten to fifth grade. She said because her son has Type 1 Diabetes, he wasn’t allowed to attend similar programs because many of them do not accept children with developmental or medical disabilities.

Minter said the staff at Community Education offered her son alternative snacks and asked Minter to help teach the staff how to keep a child with Type 1 Diabetes safe while in school.

“I cannot say enough good things about this program, the staff, or how his experiences there made Alex feel empowered and included—and that he got to be just another kid in the program, not one who felt different,” Minter said in an email. “They should be fully funded by the state budget going forward.”

The Bowling Green program is the largest of the 95 Community Education locations in Kentucky, said Erin Lightfoot, associate director. In addition to youth programs, Community Education offers a variety of classes for adults including dance, resumé workshops and Medicare assistance.

“It’s a positive after-school experience for the kids,” School-Age Programs Specialist Jarrod Shive said. “If they didn’t have this program, they could be going home to an empty house.”

About 85-90 percent of the 130 staff who work for the Bowling Green-Warren County program are WKU students, but the proposed cuts could result in a decrease in employment.

La Grange senior Alexander Reeves has worked as a one-on-one mentor at Community Education for only two weeks, but he said he really enjoys the opportunity to interact with the children.  

“It’s a really great opportunity for students to be able to experience work in schools,” said Reeves, who will return to WKU next fall to continue his major in elementary education.  

As a one-on-one mentor, he aids in homework completion and organizes activities for his assigned student.

Parents pay a monthly fee of $60 for before-school programs and $125 for after-school care, Lightfoot said. With the exceptions of Parker-Bennett-Curry and Oakland elementary schools, which provide their own care, Community Education is present in every Bowling Green and Warren County elementary school, in addition to one program at Bowling Green Junior High.  

Shive said Community Education serves families with a wide range of incomes, including the children of many WKU faculty and staff.  

“It gives parents the opportunity to be at work and the stability to give back to Bowling Green economically and take care of their kids,” Shelbyville senior and Community Education supervisor Ashley Hilger said.

Community Education receives $1.9 million of annual state funding. The money is divided between the 95 programs across Kentucky, amounting to a $20,000 budget per program each year. This money primarily goes towards the full-time directors’ salary.

Trimble, Kentucky, junior Madelyn Durand has been an assistant supervisor for Community Education for the past 1-and-a-half years. Durand works at Jody Richards Elementary supervising up to 80 children every day.

“Parents have said to me that they really hope we don’t lose this program because it’s really great and one of the only ones that offers after school care,” Durand said.

Lightfoot said the Community Education programs generate a nearly-$20 million return on the state’s annual investment. Without their state funding, programs across the state could close their doors.

“[Community Education] is a safe place for children,” Hilger said.  “The trouble and accidents that happen when kids are left alone after school are prevented.”

News reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyDeLetter.

Features reporter Sarah Yaacoub can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahYaacoub1.