Summer school programs on the chopping block in Pinellas County

Federal budget could slash $$ from summer schools

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. - A program that helps thousands of kids keep up with learning during the summer months is in jeopardy. The 21st Century Learning Program helps fund summer camps, before and after school care, and education leaders say federal cuts could severely impact local students. 

7th grader Travis Woodson recently discovered he’s really good at programming robots. Yet, he’s the first to admit, he wasn’t exactly thrilled about summer school.

“I kept thinking I'll have to be at school learning while other kids have fun all summer," he said. "But they made it really fun here so I actually like it. It’s easier to accept the fact that you’re learning when you're having a blast."

In just two short months, Woodson's attitude has changed. “I thought 'oh that’s not going to help me' but then I realized, 'Oh wait! That did help me'.”

Travis is one of more than 8,000 kids in Pinellas County trading in TV and video games for learning. Many Pinellas County Schools just wrapped up their "Bridge the Gap" program and the R' Club is offering free camps for an additional 2,400 local kids. 

Both programs are making a huge difference. 

Pinellas County education leaders say kids who skip summer school have a two to three year achievement gap by the time they reach 5th grade, and the gap just keeps growing. That’s why they’ve expanded free summer programs to thousands of kids.

Art O’Hara, the director of the ‘R Kids program explains, “It’s just so encouraging and gets kids so excited. They’re excited when school starts again.”

That’s why news of President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget cuts are so disheartening for local education leaders. The budget could slash more than a billion dollars in federal funding for education programs, including the ones offered during the summer months. 

“It just makes no sense to cut what works,” O’Hara said.

Any federal cuts would have major implications on parents too because so many work during the summer and need a safe place for their kids to be during the day. The R’ Club, which gets a large amount of their funding from federal programs, expanded their summer school to 11 hours, giving parents time to work.

“It lets working parents work and work relaxed. Which to me, that’s how you make America great again,” O'Hara said with a chuckle.

Pinellas County education leaders are desperate to bring the program back next summer, so kids like Travis can continue to thrive.

The latest budget proposal calls for cutting the 21st century learning programs by $200 million, but it’s not final, since the full house appropriations committee will have to approve the budget and then the house will have to vote on it. The senate will also pass a budget resolution and both house and senate will have to agree on a final budget.

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