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Recommendations for out-of-school time programs in the District of Columbia

April 18, 2023
  • Emilia Calma
  • Yesim Sayin

Out-of-school time (OST) programs, such as afterschool and summer programs, are important to many families the District of Columbia. Based on our analyses of where students live and go to school, locations of OST programs, potential need for additional programs, proximity analyses, and issues faced by providers and parents, this article contains eleven recommendations for the Deputy Mayor for Education on OST programming.

About this series 
This publication is part of a series adapted from our full report commissioned by the District of Columbia Deputy Mayor for Education (DME), Needs assessment of out-of-school time programs in the District of Columbia.

Other publications in this series include: 

Access the underlying original report in printable PDF format here.

The District has a large and varied OST landscape that is subsidized by federal, local, and private funds. However, determining the number of programs, program capacity, and demand for programs is difficult. Many factors contribute to this, including the lack of centralized and standardized information about OST program offerings and the lack of information about quality of programs and services offered.

Recommendations on improving data collection and coordination

Collect standardized data about OST programs provided by the District government and organizations that receive government funding.

The landscape of OST providers in the District of Columbia is varied, decentralized, fragmented, and is not systematically tracked by any government entity or outside organization. This report offers information about program offerings which we could obtain information for but does not represent the entire universe of OST programs due to data limitations. To fully know the universe of available programs and seats, standardized data would need to be collected by a centralized agency, especially for the universe of subsidized programs.

To increase the government understanding of OST programming and provide a comprehensive database for families to find OST programs, Learn24 should collect and standardize information on program offerings and accommodations from all providers receiving government funding. Currently, the main official database through which families are supposed to be able to find all program information, Learn24, relies on providers to update information individually. In practice, this means that much of the information is not up to date, is not always in the same format, or is not searchable with specific filters applied.

When the District administers grants to OST providers, it could require them to fill out a form with their program information and compile a database within Learn24 with all subsidized programs. Ideally, this database would have filters that could populate not just age, time of program, program focus and other basic information, but could also include the cost of the program to families, before and after care options, accommodations for students with special needs and transportation information like what is included in My School DC. Collecting and sharing this data will not only help families identify programs available to them but will help identify gaps in OST coverage for specific groups and geographic areas.

DME should also work closely with other government agencies, DCPS, and public charter schools to fully develop the landscape of OST programs. For example, many school age children attend programs that are provided by licensed early development facilities. As noted before these programs are excluded from this report because we could not reliably estimate how many seats offered by these programs would fit under the OST program definition, and how many of these providers are already included in our provider list.

Another part of this work could focus on standardizing definitions. For example, there is no clear definition of the term “community based organizations.” Or there is no clear agreement on how to treat private, for-profit providers that are receiving public funding, including those that are licensed as child development facilities and serve school-age children with afterschool or summer programs.

Collect information on OST programs operated by fully private providers that do not receive public funding.

This report focused on subsidized programs, or programs that received government funding including Title 1 funds and grant money from D.C. government agencies. However, this is far from the entire landscape of OST programming. There are many private OST programs that are either fully paid for by families or funded by non-profits or philanthropies. Many of these programs are highly specialized, including STEM, robotics, and arts programs.

Currently there is no method to track these programs and no central database of all program options. Collecting this information would help the District understand the full capacity of OST programs (subsidized and unsubsidized), where programs are located across the city, and what kinds of programs are most valuable to families.

Increase coordination between OSSE and the OST office to develop a better understanding of the role of licensed child development centers in the OST landscape.

As noted, the seat counts do not include all programs offered at child development facilities that are licensed by OSSE. Some children attending afterschool programs in OSSE-licensed facilities may be eligible for childcare subsidies to cover the costs of their attendance. At present, it is not possible to discern how many seats are available for OST programs ats these facilities.

Increased coordination and information sharing between OSSE and the OST office at the DME can increase our understanding of the OST landscape.

Recommendations for further research and action

Study OST provider costs, financing, and pricing models.

The timeliness, consistency, and level of funding were concerns frequently mentioned by providers. Funding issues are likely compounded by inflation and rising costs of certain services. For example, several providers mentioned that the cost of cyber insurance had increased substantially. Understanding how programs are funded, what costs providers face, what levels of service are offered, and how most programs cost for families can help inform future funding decisions.

Study the participation constraints families and youth face that prevents them from participating in OST programs by participant and program characteristics such as location, type of programming, and services provided.

More research and community engagement is necessary to understand what the demand for OST programming is for children and families in the District of Columbia. It is possible that lower enrollments reflect the demand for OST programming rather than a lack of knowledge about what is available. Anecdotal information from listening sessions with parents also suggested that programs desired by families are not available. To determine where additional programming should be placed, what kinds of programming are desired, and what services are lacking in OST programming, additional research could be conducted through surveys, focus groups, and community engagement.

Additionally, further research is necessary on barriers to participation in OST programming. Families face barriers to participation in OST programming including program costs, location, and transportation access. Additionally, students with special needs such as services for disabilities, need for bilingual staff, or students needing personalized transportation and care face additional barriers to participation. To allow all students to potentially participate in OST programming, more information is needed on student experience and barriers to access.

Conduct further research on challenges facing groups who need additional care or special accommodations.

Additional research is needed to understand the needs of students and families with specific care needs that may not be currently accommodated by OST programs. Many families do not participate in OST programming due to barriers such as program location, cost, transportation, and whether programs offer specific services such as one-on-one care, nurses to dispense medication, and bilingual staff or culturally specific programming. People who do not participate in OST programming could include students with disabilities, students with language barriers, and students without transportation options to get to and from OST programs.

More research needs to be completed, perhaps through focus groups or randomized trials, to determine the specific needs of students and what supports programs need to provide adequate services. Programs often do not have funding for additional services or staff, making service provision difficult even if they have the capacity to otherwise provide OST programming to these students. Direct funding could be afforded to providers who serve students to subsidize the cost of additional staff and services, or location specific funding could be afforded to programs located in areas with high concentrations of students with specific needs.1 However, more research needs to be completed to understand the specific needs of students and families.

Develop quality and effectiveness benchmarks.

The District should consider developing metrics for program capacity and effectiveness. Metrics will inform funding decisions and priorities and will help determine measures of quality and effectiveness of OST programs. For example, metrics can help answer questions such as: what should OST programs achieve for students? What services should be expected from families in OST programming (particularly subsidized programming)? What level of capacity needs to be offered by subsidized OST programs?

Monitor bottlenecks from background clearance process.

Providers often mentioned that the background clearance process hindered their ability to hire staff. Checks that are expected to take weeks often took many months, a time in which many candidates were unwilling to wait. Importantly, on January 17, 2023, the Educator Background Check Streamlining Amendment Act of 2022 (Bill 24-0989) was signed by the mayor and enacted. The bill streamlines the background clearance process for staff and volunteers working in schools and educational programs. Due to its recent enactment, its effects are unknown. The time it takes to complete background checks for staff and volunteers of educational programs should continue to be monitored to identify problems and ease bottlenecks.

Recommendations on community engagement and information dissemination

Improve communication about OST programming and services through public events.

Providers frequently mentioned that enrollments were lower than pre-pandemic levels and that many providers are having trouble recruiting children and families. At the same time, parents frequently said that they had trouble finding programs for their children, particularly for children with special needs. Parents most frequently mentioned receiving information about OST programs from their children’s schools (83 percent of respondents to the parent survey, see Appendix figure 2 for a ranked chart), but also frequently mentioned that communication was not consistent and that they did not feel they had an understanding on the full range of programs offered. For families with children who need accommodations such as one-on-one care, wheelchair access, bilingual staff, or behavioral support plans, it was even more difficult to identify programs that would be appropriate. Increasing communication about OST programming through schools, public channels, and working to increase knowledge or usability of Learn24 could help connect families to providers.

One option to create greater community engagement and knowledge of programs is to hold a fair for OST programs. Much like how parents access information about public schools through EdFEST, there could be a public fair in the winter before summer OST enrollment starts that would allow families to engage with providers and learn more about offerings, application processes, and accommodations for students with special needs. An event of this nature could also be held in the summer, ahead of school year afterschool OST programming.

Engage schools as sources of OST information.

Parents most frequently reported receiving OST information from their children’s schools, but that information was not complete and not consistent. Given the access that schools have to all children, the OST office should maintain relationships with schools and potentially leverage school access to increase information dissemination about OST programming. This could be done through information in physical spaces such as bulletin boards or fliers or could be done through informational emails that could be forwarded to students.

Redesign the Program Finder feature of the Learn 24 website and update how the information is populated on this website to make it more informative and useful for families and students.

An exceedingly small number of parents and guardians are aware of, or use, the Learn24 website, and those who use it find it confusing. The Program Finder feature can be improved by ensuring that information provided is current, provides key information in a consistent way, and included additional information such as application deadlines. This feature should be designed so it is easily accessible from mobile devices, in the form of an application.

Detailed information on where D.C. public school students live and go to school, capacity of OST programs and locations, estimated gaps across the city and at the neighborhood level, and the experience of providers and families can be found in the main text of our report. 


  1. Where location specific funding would be provided is dependent on policy goals. For example, funding could be targeted in areas where students live, where they go to school, or at third party locations such as recreation centers.


Emilia Calma

Director of Policy & Research
D.C. Policy Center

Emilia is the Director of Policy & Research at the D.C. Policy Center. Her research focuses on racial equity, social policy, and workforce issues in the District of Columbia. Emilia has authored reports on many topics including out-of-school-time program capacity, D.C.’s criminal justice system, and the geography of environmental hazards. In addition, Emilia has worked at Georgetown University’s Policy Innovation Lab and at the Montgomery County Council.

Emilia holds a Bachelor of Arts from Carleton College and Master of Public Policy from Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

You can reach Emilia at emilia@dcpolicycenter.org.

Yesim Sayin

Executive Director
D.C. Policy Center

Yesim Sayin is the founding Executive Director of the D.C. Policy Center.

With over twenty years of public policy experience in the District of Columbia, Dr. Sayin is recognized by policymakers, advocates and the media as a source of reliable, balanced analyses on the District’s economy and demography.  Yesim’s research interests include economic and fiscal policy, urban economic development, housing, and education. She is especially focused on how COVID-19 pandemic is changing regional and interregional economic interdependencies and what this means for urban policy. Her work is frequently covered in the media, including the Washington Post, the Washington Business Journal, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, WAMU, and the Washington City Paper, among others.

Before joining the D.C. Policy Center, Dr. Sayin worked at the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Financial Officer leading the team that scored the fiscal impact of all legislation the District considered. She frequently testified on high profile legislation and worked closely with the executive and Council staff to ensure that policymakers fully understand the fiscal implications of their proposed legislation. Yesim also has worked in the private sector, and consulted with international organization on a large portfolio of public finance topics.

Yesim holds a Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations from Bogazici University, located in Istanbul, Turkey.