Making after-school a safer time of day


WHEN the school day ends, more than 1 million Maryland children pour out onto the streets. Where do they go? What do they do?

With rare exceptions, their parents are not at home waiting for them. Eighty percent of parents work. Under welfare reform, the percentage will go even higher.

While some parents are able to take advantage of an uneven patchwork of after-school programs, many children are left unsupervised.

Not surprisingly, more than 50 percent of violent acts by children take place between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. This is also the time when children most often become victims of crime, are injured in accidents, get pregnant and experiment with drugs.

As we listened to parents during the recent political campaign, they uniformly expressed concern about the lack of affordable, quality after-school opportunities for their children. A recent poll shows that more than three-quarters of voters in Maryland favor increased public investment in after-school programs.

Additionally, Attorney General Joseph Curran and police commissioners in Maryland say that expanding after-school programs is the single best way to reduce juvenile crime.

Enrichment effort

Educators say that the after-school hours are an ideal time to help low-achieving students get the extra help they need to perform at grade level in math and reading. Perhaps most importantly, many children themselves say there are not enough positive activities in their communities.

There is legislation before the General Assembly that would provide after-school programs for all children -- House bills 6 and 7. House Bill 6 calls for $10 million in grants in the first year to fund after-school programs designed to make a real difference in children's lives.

The governor and several Cabinet secretaries will decide how to award the grants. They will work with an advisory board to develop the state's first comprehensive strategic plan for after-school programs to ensure the most efficient use of existing resources.

House Bill 7 provides parents with a tax break for a portion of the money they spend on child care and after-school programs. Maryland currently provides little help to parents to defray the high cost of quality child and after-school care.

Tax credits

Under the proposed bill, parents will receive up to a $500 tax credit per child. No other state has a tax credit that provides such substantial relief to parents. House bills 6 and 7 form a complementary package that can make a dramatic difference for Maryland families.

Momentum for the creation of additional high quality after-school programs is building at both the national and local levels. In Baltimore, the Open Society Institute, a philanthropic foundation formed by billionaire George Soros, announced a $6.25 million grant in support of local after-school programs.

Last year, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress supported an increase from $40 million in fiscal year '98 to $200 million in fiscal year '99 in after-school funding.

This year, President Clinton proposed a major expansion -- to $600 million in federal funding for after-school programs.

It is time for the Maryland state government to match these investments, to fill in the large gaps in current services and to provide a much-needed tax break to parents.

The investment we make today in quality after-school programs will produce high yields in the future. Reduced delinquency and better school performance will save the state and our communities millions of dollars.

It is time to make after-school a time of development instead of delinquency, of tutoring instead of truancy. The proposed legislation will provide much-needed relief for parents and will jump-start new and exciting initiatives.

It deserves the enthusiastic support of the General Assembly and the governor.

Casper R. Taylor Jr., speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, and Del. Mark K. Shriver, of Montgomery County, are co-sponsor and sponsor, respectively, of House bills 6 and 7.

Pub Date: 2/12/99

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