Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Now is the Time for Advocacy

By Sam Piha 

I remember the words of a mentor who warned, “Social movements, like the afterschool movement, have a shelf life. Things are going well now, but be prepared to advocate for afterschool resources in the future”.

Now is the time as afterschool providers are under new economic pressures and resources for afterschool programs are being threatened. The California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC) is holding two Advocacy Retreats - one in the Bay Area (September 15-16) and one in Los Angeles (November 4). We think this is very timely and recommend that afterschool stakeholders check it out. Click here for more info. 

We asked representatives at CalSAC to say more about this retreat. Below we offer the responses of Aleah Rosario, Director of Capacity Building Programs at CalSAC.

Q: Why is CalSAC sponsoring this retreat?

A: Every child deserves to experience the enrichment and transformation that out-of-school time programs can offer — no matter their background or zip code.  It’s critical to ensure decision makers understand the importance of these programs and adequately fund them. 

Expanded learning program (ELP) staff, families and youth are the best people to engage as active advocates for policies that value out-of-school time. This retreat is aimed at identifying ways to enhance and grow local, ongoing, grassroots advocacy by empowering those closest to the work.

Q: Is there something in the air that makes advocacy particularly important at this time? 

A: Many people in the field did something new for the first time over the last year – they called or emailed their legislators, collected stories from youth and family members, and they shared actions that their colleagues and communities can take to join the efforts. And this led to results. 

For example, in June, California took a leap forward for students, families, and communities and provided critically needed funding for the After School Education and Safety (ASES) programs that benefit over 600,000 low-income students across California. Governor Jerry Brown signed the California State Budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18, which included an additional $50 million in ongoing funding for the ASES program. This is an essential first step that will allow programs to stay open, and the culmination of a 3-year campaign driven by providers and advocates.

However, the $50 million only goes halfway in meeting the field's current fiscal needs in response to the increased state minimum wage. Furthermore, cuts to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides federal afterschool funding for 200,000 young people across the country, continues to be threatened. 

So, it is clear that continued advocacy is needed to protect this investment. Together, we can take advantage of the momentum built to further amplify and empower the voices of our field.

Photo Credit: SaveAfterschool.com
Q: Who should attend this retreat? 

A: The ideal participants are people who can drive and/or contribute to actions on-the-ground at the site or local level, i.e. site coordinator, director, community engagement specialist, family engagement liaison, etc. (not EDs, CEOs, policy experts, etc.). 

There will be people attending from across the state, from a variety of organizations (districts, CBO’s, large, small, with geographic diversity) and participants will have the opportunity to interact with others in their area to identify potential collaborative partners and coordinate efforts. 

It is ideal for folks that are outside of the out-of-school time realm to be positioned to and willing to collaborate with their local ELPs in their efforts. We know we have a ways to go to build a strong base, and that includes engaging with other stakeholders like parents/families, teachers/school admin, early learning, etc. We hope that through capacity building efforts like this retreat, we can build bridges with others that also care about the wellbeing of children, youth and families.

Q: Will you be helping attendees distinguish between advocacy, education, and lobbying?

A: In our experience, and for the intended audience of this retreat, advocacy/lobbying rules aren’t necessarily the biggest deterrent to engaging in advocacy. Rather, giving folks resources, tools and experience helps people feel equipped and inspired to act. Our guest speakers have lots of experience with do’s and don’ts of advocacy, and can help field questions about lobbying rules throughout the retreat as they come up.

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