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$11.5M proposal targets school-age child care programs

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(The Center Square) – The governor’s administration said Wednesday the state needs to invest more in summer camps and before-and-after school programs.

The initiative, called BOOST – short for the Building Opportunity through Out of School Time – would invest $11.5 million into child care facilities to expand offerings for school-age children.

Lt. Gov. Austin Davis recalled his experience attending a Boys and Girls Club in McKeesport during a visit to the Greater Susquehanna Valley Y in Milton, saying he knows “firsthand the value of afterschool programs.”

“At their most basic level, they provide structure for students after the school day ends, but the best programs enhance and expand on what they learn at school, giving them social skills, homework help, sports and exercise, music, art, theater and so much more,” he said. “They also keep kids safe during those critical hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.”

The investment “isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do,” Davis added.

The Greater Susquehanna Valley Y serves over 350 children and their families across four different locations. Its CEO, Bonnie McDowell noted the organization’s “unique perspective” acting both as a provider and employer.

“It’s about investing in our children and giving them the support they need to reach their full potential,” said Afterschool Program Assistant Director Amanda Dye.

The Greater Susquehanna Valley Y also employs 377 staff members, many of whom themselves struggle to access affordable child care. Dye noted that the lack of affordable child care contributes to the state’s staffing challenges across industries. With parents unable to join the workforce, employers are seeing critical shortages.

Within the child care industry itself, providers are currently carrying over 4,000 vacancies across the commonwealth, with many centers shutting down under the pressure.

The Y already provides upwards of $54,000 annually in financial assistance to its families, with 2023 seeing an increase of 26% from the previous year according to Dye.

“This investment, the first of its kind, will provide many services to our kids ranging from academic help to reducing negative behaviors such as engaging in bullying, violence, and crime,” she said.

Sen. Lynda Schlegel-Culver, R-Shamokin Dam, said cost and access issues keep 775,000 kids from enrolling in the programs.

“To put it simply, for every child enrolled in an OST program, four more kids are waiting to get in,” she said.

The Y also partners with other organizations like 4H and local hospitals, exposing students to opportunities for service and potential career paths.