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550 kids could lose after-school program at YMCA
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Problems within the Georgia Department of Education are causing the Georgia Mountains YMCA to struggle with how to keep 550 at-risk kids in an after-school program when school starts in August.

The program, a partnership between Gainesville schools, Hall County schools and the YMCA, selects children who meet certain criteria to participate in the free program.

Eligible children must have failed the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and qualify for free or reduced lunch. Those who participate receive academic tutoring and enrichment classes in areas such as art, music and sports.

The program was funded by a federal grant called the 21st Century Community Learning Centers under the No Child Left Behind Act and selects school districts based on merit to receive funds.

Gainesville and Hall County schools have ranked high enough since 2006 to receive grant money.

But a Georgia Department of Education audit of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program found that employees with personal agendas sent funding to school districts that did not meet the requirements.

Because of the mismanagement, all grant funding from 2006 was cut, and schools must reapply in order to regain funds.

"There were findings that some staff from the DOE had conducted the process of approving these grants improperly and with a great deal of conflict of interest," said Dana Tofig, director of communications for the Department of Education. "The department felt it was necessary to redo the grant process for that particular year."

"Over time we’ve always gotten this grant and have done well," Georgia Mountains YMCA President Mike Brown said. "But they gave funding to people who did not deserve it, did not earn it and their scores were not high enough to get it. "

As of June 30, funding to 2006 grantees will stop, affecting 550 students from four area schools: Gainesville Elementary, New Holland Core Knowledge Academy, Jones Elementary and Lyman Hall Elementary.

"That’s 500 and some-odd kids that are basically just no longer going to have care, no longer have a place to go after school," Brown said. "This is ridiculous."

Gwen Bagley, group vice president of Georgia Mountains YMCA Inc., said it is unknown when exactly they can reapply for the grant.

But, Bagley said, the new application will be available during the 2008-2009 school year.

"These are families that can’t afford care," she said. "We’re hoping that our community will see this as a need to step up this school year and be able to say ‘let’s help these kids’ until we can reapply."

Brown said he is fearful that even though the YMCA can continue to offer a basic after-school program at reduced cost, as low as $15 a week, most students’ families cannot afford to pay it.

And not being in after-school programs can leave children without care and at risk of dangerous activities.

"We may get 100 of them. But we’re not going to keep 550 because they won’t be able to afford what it costs," he said. "Now where are these kids going?"

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