One school board member called the cuts “devastating” to the program.
State lawmakers significantly decreased funding for a program that proved to combat academic learning loss that occurs during the summer.
Last year, Sarasota County Schools received $500,000 from the state to help fund summer learning academies in 2019. But this year, lawmakers only allocated $100,000 in the state budget for next year’s program, despite the school district increasing its funding request to $1.5 million.
The academies offer students six weeks of summer education, with the goal of reducing the “summer slide”— a decline in reading ability that takes place during the summer months, especially among children from low-income families who may not have access to high-quality summer care. Studies show that those students lose as much as two months of reading progress over the summer break and can end up years behind their classmates by fifth grade.
According to the Sarasota County School District, the 541 students who attended at least half of the program in 2018 increased their reading test scores when they returned to school in the fall.
School Board member Eric Robinson, who lobbied lawmakers for the funding, said the cut will be “devastating” to the program.
“I don’t even want to think about what’s going to happen next year. I think that it may go away or really scale down,” Robinson said. “If we can’t have the summer learning academies, it’s going to be devastating to the whole grade-level reading initiative. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find the funding somewhere else.”
He said it’s vital for local philanthropy to fund the program for the summer of 2020 while the district pushes lawmakers to include funding in the 2020-21 budget.
Despite the cut in state support, the school district will commit to continue funding the summer learning academies, said Tracey Beeker, spokeswoman for the school district.
This summer, the program will require $1.8 million, and based on district projections, the 2020 program will require $2.4 million. In addition to funding from the state, the summer learning academies receive funding from multiple community partners, including the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.
“It’s meant to be a large-scale community project that’s in place to help our community,” said Kirsten Russell, vice president of community impact at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. “Students are a very big part of our community, and we know that investing in students early and often produces the best results for those families and our community.”
The program has expanded since it began in 2012 at Alta Vista Elementary School. The academies are now offered for free at 12 of the district’s Title I elementary schools.
“The goal has always been, with us and Community Foundation, to not only increase the number of schools, but to increase the number of grades that we offer this program to,” Beeker said. “Between funding from the state and community partners like the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, we feel pretty comfortable.”
This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire, and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.