Mott-ly Alliance

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In the growing field of the after-school programming, all roads, it seem, lead to Flint, Mich., home of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation (assets $3.23 billion, 1999 grants $113.9 million) and its enigmatic offspring, the Afterschool Alliance.

Mott has teamed up with the Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative which grew from just $1 million in 1997 to $450 million this year. The president has asked Congress to spend $1 billion on the program in FY 2001. Mott's contribution to expanding after-school programs over a seven-year period that began in 1998 will be $95.2 million.

The Mott/Dept. of Ed. partnership has proved a politically potent combination that has muted three controversial aspects of the expanding program. Topping the list is the political grip of the give 'em more academics after 3 p.m. crowd, largely composed of the same education interests whose constituents' woeful performance before 3 p.m. make them, claim these proponents, uniquely qualified to dish out more of the same in what is labeled (with increasing inaccuracy) out-of-school time. Standing on the community side of the schoolhouse door are the rich mix of CBOs that have run youth programs for decades, or even a century. They favor a more youth development approach that makes considerable allowance for unstructured time, a.k.a., having fun and playing without constant (often annoying) adult direction.

Second on the controversy list are the restrictions on who can apply for 21st CCLC funds. Current law permits only school districts to apply and merely encourages a largely meaningless (as in cashless) collaboration with non-public school youth-serving agencies. That feature is, not surprisingly, anathema to CBOs such as the YMCA, Camp Fire, settlement houses and others already running well over 25,000 youth programs in their own facilities or in schools, public housing, churches or anywhere else space and funding can be brought together.

Taking the policy lead in challenging the only-public-schools-need-apply requirement is the National Assembly of Health and Human Service Organizations and its 34-member National Collaboration for Youth, which serves an estimated 40 million youth and is chaired by Stewart Smith, national executive director of Kansas City-based Camp Fire Boys & Girls. Smith and the National Assembly's CEO, Gordon Raley, are pushing for youth-serving agencies to be eligible for up to 20 percent of all 21st CCLC funding. But, in closed door negotiations mediated by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the education lobby (led by the National School Boards Association and staffed, apparently, by people who never had any fun after 3 p.m.) is opposing any broadening of eligibility or even a mandatory requirement that schools partner as peers with CBOs.

A successful amendment to the Labor-HHS Appropriations Bill, sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), opens direct grant participation to CBOs who collaborate with schools in providing after-school programs. Wrote Raley to Sen. Gregg on behalf of such groups as the National Urban League, the National 4-H Council and Girl Scouts of the USA: "Excluding these organizations from active participation in federal efforts to provide after-school programming cannot be reconciled with the best interests of this nation's children and youth."

The ultimate prospects for Gregg's amendment are uncertain for this year. But, chortles a key GOP Capitol Hill staffer, "This crowd at the Department of Education can play this game [keeping CBOs ineligible to apply] all they want. But there will be a new president and Secretary of Education in January." If Gov. George W. Bush wins the White House, goes this line of thinking, the 20 percent formula now sneered at by the education lobby will look like a modest proposal indeed.

Controversial topic number three is the Mott Foundation's pop-up Afterschool Alliance, which hopes to channel the wide public support to further expand 21st CCLC. (In a new poll launched by Mott and J.C. Penney, 86 percent of respondents said after-school programs are a necessity.)

The Afterschool Alliance's "vision" is "that by raising national and local awareness about the importance of afterschool, all children will have access to quality, affordable programs by 2010." Among the initial partners are the Advertising Council (a partnership lubricated with $3 million in grants for an Afterschool PSA campaign) and People Magazine.

The staff for the Afterschool Alliance is as nebulous as its governance. Judy Samuelson, a veteran staffer in Mott's communication office, is now an independent consultant with a single client: The Afterschool Alliance. She remains housed at foundation headquarters in Flint, while PR Solutions in D.C. is listed in Mott/Afterschool Alliance literature as a contact. There, staffer Gretchen Wright was stumped by a request for the Afterschool Alliance's advisory board: "I don't have any list of who's on the advisory board." At least two names have surfaced in a most public setting, the early May White House Conference on Teenagers. There, with Mott Foundation President Bill White in attendance, the President of the United States, no less, announced that actor Danny DeVito and his actress-wife, Rhea Perlman, would cheer on the Afterschool Alliance as advisory board members.

Many insiders in the field are uncertain about the role and benefits of the Afterschool Alliance. The 8,000 members of the Boston-based National School-Age Care Alliance (NSACA) - with eight full-time staff, 14 part-time trainers and a $1.5 million budget derived from member dues and foundation grants - are, says Executive Director Linda Sisson, "actually on the job" delivering "developmental care." A query to Richard Scofield, publisher of School Age Notes in Nashville, Tenn., on the relationship between the Afterschool Alliance and NSACA, drew a "That's a good question" response. Says Sisson of the Afterschool Alliance, "I haven't found out what they're about." Sisson says the Afterschool Alliance "looks like a collaboration. Is it?" But, while Sisson laments that "it is unfortunate that they chose that name" (so similar to NSACA's), she is "reserving judgement" on the Afterschool Alliance. That's not a bad idea when you're talking about the pet project of the biggest philanthropy in after-school grantmaking.

Hopping aboard the Mott Foundation after-school juggernaut is An-Me Chung. Prior to her appointment as a program officer in Mott's Pathways Out of Poverty program, Chung consulted with Save the Children's Out-of-School Time Rural Initiative (located in 18 states) and spent two-and-a-half years on the staff of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) based at Wellesley College near Boston.

NIOST, under the leadership of Michelle Seligson, has played a catalytic role in expanding afterschool programs in underserved communities. Internecine warfare among the Amazons of post-3 p.m. youth care at the Center for Research for Women, where NIOST is housed, led to Seligson's resignation as director and to Chung's departure.

As of mid-June, Seligson's old job will be held by Mary Lavo Ford, a former four-term mayor of Northampton, Mass. A self-described "education mayor," Ford pushed for collaborative programming for school-age children and to strengthen arts and recreation programs in the town of 30,000, where the presence of the nation's largest women's college, Smith, looms large and feminist women's issues loom even larger. Contact: Afterschool Alliance (810) 766-1747; NSACA (617) 298-5012; NIOST (781) 283-2500.