Six years ago, Monica Hall had $12,500 in state funding allocated for her operating budget for Booker T. Washington Elementary Family Resource Center where she is the coordinator. This year, she said that amount was $244. And more cuts could be coming.
The mission of Kentucky’s 811 school-based Family Resource and Youth Services Centers is to help academically at-risk students succeed in school by minimizing barriers. Right now, Hall said she depends heavily on community support, donations and grants to supplement her budget and continue programs at the center.
As coordinator, Hall does everything from finding volunteers to help kids with reading to putting food in a hungry child’s backpack. She’s showing parents how to help with homework, buying eyeglasses for a low-income student, hosting small groups of kids at lunch to help them learn to interact, and calling on people in the community to act as mentors. She and a school social worker make home visits.
As it is, she is being careful with funds and balancing spending time with families with finding community partners who can help the center.
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With more state budget cuts feared, the Fayette County Public Schools board has set funding for Family Resource and Youth Service Centers as one of several legislative priorities for the 2018 General Assembly. Fayette County Schools have 47 Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, said district coordinator Doug Adams.
“When budgets get tight what’s usually the first thing that gets cut?” — the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers — “and that’s wrong,” board member Doug Barnett said at a recent meeting.
The Kentucky Family Resource Centers at elementary schools and Youth Services Centers at middle and high schools were established as a key component of the Kentucky Education Reform Act, of 1990, commonly known as KERA. Schools where at least 20 percent of the student population is eligible for free or reduced school meals can compete for the funding. Approximately 55 percent of students enrolled in Kentucky’s public schools are eligible for free school meals.
Center officials grew concerned in September when the Bevin administration requested a proposed cut to the state education budget. Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said that School Family Resource and Youth Service Centers, under one scenario, stood to lose $4.5 million, which “would negatively impact supports to our most vulnerable students.”
Though a budget reduction order has been issued for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, the exact amount of the reduction to the centers has not been finalized.,said department spokeswoman Rebecca Blessing
Last week, Pruitt told the Herald-Leader he did not know if Family Resource and Youth Service Centers would face additional cuts in the upcoming biennal budget..
“We’re all kind of waiting with baited breath to see what happens in the General Assembly,” Pruitt said.
“I worry about it,” Pruitt said, because he thinks the centers have provided invaluable resources to kids across the state. He said the centers address everything from children not having shoes to making sure they get good meals at home to providing social and emotional support.
Melissa Goins, the division director over the centers for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said it is challenging to explain to policymakers the scope of what the centers do so they can make educated decisions.
The centers are always going to help with basic needs, she said. “We know that one in five children in Kentucky don’t have the food they need at home.”
Center staffs make sure families know where to find quality child care and how to help children three and under learn, they offer help with literacy and connect families with community agencies to help with drug, alcohol and mental health issues. Some centers have support groups for grandparents and other relatives raising children when parents can’t.
“We are doing what we can to keep homes stable,” said Goins.
State funding for the centers has fallen from $57 million in 2009 to $51.5 million in 2017.
“Our funding has remained relatively flat but our need has increased so much. there is less to go around,” said Goins. Personnel costs keep going up and those have to be paid first to keep the centers open, leaving fewer state funds for operating costs.
“It’s more challenging, you don’t have the funds to do things quickly,” said Adams, the Fayette district coordinator. Center staffs have to be “a little slower to provide those services that (families) so desperately ask for and need. They can meet more of the needs and do a deeper dive with families if they didn’t have to spend so much time finding those resources because they don’t have an operating budget.”
“Our concern,” Goins said, “would be that if we get less money and we have the same need or even a greater need, some of our smaller schools will not be able to sustain a center. Even larger and mid-sized centers might have to cut some days.”
Goins she doesn’t know of a center that has closed in Kentucky due to funding, but about 100 school centers have asked to cut back on the work days of staff. School districts across the state have kicked in $7.2 million in salary supplements and contributions to keep their centers going “and I don’t know if they are going to be able to continue to do that,” she said.
Hall said more cuts at Booker T. “would be devastating for us.”
In Fayette, due to budget constraints, two centers, Ashland Elementary and Dixie Elementary, recently began sharing one coordinator, Adams said. Two schools have never opened centers, even though the schools qualify for them based on free and reduced meal numbers. Paul Laurence Dunbar High and Lexington Traditional Magnet Middle School have met the qualifications to open a Youth Services Center for years, but Adams said they’ve never been funded because the state hasn’t been opening many new centers.
Goins said there are over 35 schools across the state that qualify for centers, but don’t have them.
“We know that those schools need centers,” Goins said. “But our first priority is to maintain the existing centers. It gets harder and harder for school districts to sustain what they already have.”