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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 27, 2002

Fee increase likely for after-school program

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Education officials yesterday began weighing the options for how to cope with a more than $3 million shortfall expected next year in the state's popular A-Plus after-school program.

While Board of Education members say they won't make any decisions until next month when the state's budget is finalized, they expect to have to raise fees in the next school year to keep the program operating.

A-Plus is an after-school program operated by the Department of Education and by private childcare providers on school campuses to provide a safe place for latchkey kids.

Options range from increasing the cost for all children to $70 a month — a move board members say is unrealistic because it would prevent low-income families from participating — to coming up with a scale that would have middle-class families pay $70 and lower-income families pay $20 to $30 a month.

Now, the highest price that families pay for A-Plus is $55, even though the program costs the state $70 per child. Families with children on the federal free and reduced lunch program pay $6 a month.

"There are definitely people who can pay more for their childcare," Board member Karen Knudsen said. "I think folks are willing to do that."

But Knudsen said the board will have to come up with a method that would allow low-income families to stay in A-Plus. "If you have multiple children and you're barely making it with minimum wage, how do we keep from losing those kids?" Knudsen said.

Ray Sanborn, president of Kama'aina Kids, said enrollment in A-Plus may drop as much as 20 percent if fees go up. He and other providers said their enrollment has already suffered this year because of the Sept. 11 economic crisis.

After the terrorist attacks, Kama'aina Kids lost about 300 of 3,500 children from its after-school programs. Most of those losses came on military bases as families returned to the Mainland, he said. "We've been in a crisis mode this whole year. We're in a struggle."

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.