Among all the funding cuts of the last six months, few have been deeper than those to New Jersey after-school programs.
But in the wild ride of the state’s budget process, those same programs may be the first to get a reprieve, too.
In March, Gov. Chris Christie slashed more than $5 million out of the 2010 budget for New Jersey After 3, the umbrella organization for after-school programs in scores of communities. He then followed up by cutting another $10 million from the organization’s 2011 budget, the entire state contribution.
That led to programs scaling back or closing altogether, including one at Morristown's Neighborhood House, where 150 middle-school kids attend a project called STARS.
STARS is short for "Smart Talented Athletic Responsible Students." It aims to keep kids out of trouble by keeping them occupied--with tutoring, sports and music instruction--until their parents get home from work.
STARS lost $150,000 from NJ After 3, forcing it to reduce its enrollment. It only survived the spring semester thanks to $50,000 from foundations and individuals.
The program may now get some new help, as Christie in the closing days of the budget deliberations restored $3 million to New Jersey After 3. That's still only a third of the organization’s total from last year, and it is counting on federal grants and partnerships with districts to help make up the difference.
That brings some hope to places like the Neighborhood House, where either way, its fundraisers face a long, hot summer in Morristown.