October 26, 2011; Source: Star Ledger | In 2007, the State of New Jersey provided $15 million to a group called NJ After 3, which dispensed grants to local nonprofits such as the YWCA and the Boys & Girls Club to provide after-school programming for kids. Last year, under Governor Chris Christie, the budget was down to $3 million, but still, 5,000 children participated in after-school programs. This year, Christie gave the program zero. Democrats tried to restore the funding but failed. Christie’s rationale for the cut was that “programs like that that can be funded through private funds should be encouraged to do so during very difficult, tough economic times.” The assumption that donors to after-school programs are just waiting in the wings with surpluses of excess capital is faulty, and one has to assume that a brilliant governor like Christie knows this. Human-service programs such as after school programs for kids have taken a huge hit in charitable giving during and since the recession. The idea that donors would suddenly pony up an extra $3 million or $15 million to sustain and rebuild the program in question is a matter of lying to oneself or feeding a line to the public.
Do you need the statistics to make the case? There are 8.4 million children participating in after-school programs—an increase of 3 million over the past five years, but 15.1 million continue to be alone and unsupervised after school every day, according to research generated by the Afterschool Alliance. That’s one-fourth of all children alone and unsupervised after 3 p.m. There is solid research on what makes for a good after-school program, as demonstrated by an evaluation by The Afterschool Corporation, which has done excellent work in this field. The health, safety, and school-performance benefits of after-school programs are demonstrable.
So why did Governor Christie dump the program from the New Jersey state budget and try to shunt it off to private charity? As a representative of NJ After 3 noted, when a nonprofit loses its biggest investor—in this case, the state government—it is a signal, a negative one, to other potential donors. The governor’s budget cut made it less likely that charity and philanthropy would come to the table to save after-school programs. This is an excellent example of how government cutbacks in the social safety net wreak havoc and actually undermine rather than invite the prospects of public private partnerships.—Rick Cohen