Afterschool Fund Falls Victim to Line-Item Veto, Battered Economy

John Mooney | October 25, 2011 | Education
New Jersey After 3, which once funded programs for thousands of kids, to go dark.

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New Jersey After 3, the statewide program that funded afterschool for thousands of New Jersey students, has told sponsors and supporters that it will cease operations next week.

The program, established in 2004, steadily saw its state funding cut in the past three years.

In an email yesterday, New Jersey After 3 president and chief executive Mark Valli said the final blow was the elimination of the last $3 million in state funding under Gov. Chris Christie’s 2012 budget.

“This difficult decision follows the loss of state funding and the subsequent loss of private and matching funds in the context of an uncertain economic environment,” Valli wrote.

New Jersey After 3 had virtually ceased awarding grants to private and public afterschool programs this fall and was down to a skeleton staff. It had hoped for other funding sources to materialize, but they did not do so without the state money as a foundation, Valli wrote.

“After exploring virtually every option and following much thoughtful discussion, it was determined that New Jersey After 3’s business model — and the benefits of its economies of scale that relied on a robust public/private partnership — are no longer sustainable,” he wrote.

Contacted yesterday, Valli confirmed the email and said a public announcement would come this week. His email said the organization would shut down on Monday, the last day of the month.

Launched in part with state money under former Gov. Jim McGreevey in 2004, the private nonprofit entity topped out at $15 million in state funding in 2007 and saw its programs serve 15,000 students in 2008.

Its hallmark was a structured strategy that aimed to infuse afterschools — ranging from YMCAs to public schools — with academic tutoring, sports and fitness, family support, and other help. The programs lasted for up to three hours a day.

In the past four years as the economy soured, New Jersey After 3 moved ever closer to the edge. Two years ago, state funding was reduced to $10 million, and that was followed by a cut to $3 million last year. Still, it also raised $2.2 million in private funds and was able to survive.

Despite intensive lobbying by Valli and others, Christie then eliminated the state funding altogether in the current budget, and the organization could not make it up.

Before the cut, the program’s reach was down to 5,000 children last year. While some of its grantees survived on other funding, only about 2,200 children were being served through its programs this fall.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said he received the phone message from Valli yesterday, telling him of the program’s demise. Lesniak had been instrumental in trying to restore the funding in this year’s budget, but it was among scores of entries that fell victim to Christie’s line-item veto. A vote to override the veto fell short.

“It’s a big loss for our state,” Lesniak said in an email last night. “From 25,000 children getting afterschool learning in a healthy environment to zero, creating a void and a difficult task for low-income families, most often single mothers, to handle.

“Governor Christie has no compassion or understanding for issues like this,” he wrote.

Efforts to reach Christie’s spokesman last night were unsuccessful, but the governor’s office had argued in making the cut that New Jersey After 3 was never intended to rely on state funding in perpetuity.

“The remaining $3 million allocated for the New Jersey After 3 non-profit group would be removed from the budget this year, completing the goal of phasing out state funding and moving the program to financial independence as a self-sustaining non-profit agency,” read the governor’s budget summary.