By Megan Tagami at Honolulu Civil Beat

As federal coronavirus funding expires, the Hawaii Department of Education must make the case for continued investments in summer learning.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, After-School All-Stars had limited funding to hire staff and cover the costs of the activities it offered to low-income schools during the summer months. But over the past two years, an influx of federal Covid relief money has provided the nonprofit with approximately $1.3 million for its after-school and summer learning initiatives.

Using the funding, the nonprofit offered summer programs ranging from field trips to the Polynesian Cultural Center to hip-hop and baking classes, said president and CEO Paula Fitzell. After-School All-Stars served approximately 850 students in its summer school programs on Oahu and Big Island last year.

With student achievement still below pre-pandemic levels, advocates say that affordable and accessible summer learning opportunities are critical for children’s academic and social recovery. But the federal funding that supported After-School All-Stars and other summer learning programs throughout the state will expire on Sept. 30.

“Are we going to have such robust summer programs next year? I don’t know,” Fitzell said about summer opportunities in 2025.

The Hawaii Department of Education has cited summer learning as a top strategy for addressing pandemic learning loss and has offered free programs since 2020. Before Covid, the DOE offered summer school to students who had failed their classes or wished to get ahead in their coursework, but families had to cover the costs.

Summer learning in DOE now includes a range of opportunities, from traditional academic classes to enrichment programs and extracurriculars offered by schools and nonprofits like After-School All-Stars.

The department is now seeking $20 million in state funding to sustain its summer offerings, although the impact of summer programs on students’ academics during the pandemic remains unclear. The latest version of the state budget being debated by the Legislature includes DOE’s funding request for summer 2025.

David Sun-Miyashiro, executive director of HawaiiKidsCAN, said he fully supports programs offering learning opportunities for students outside of the traditional school year. But, while DOE has developed new summer programs in recent years, it’s unclear which initiatives have resulted in the greatest gains for students, he said.

“We want to have a smart, strategic approach moving forward,” Sun-Miyashiro said.

In 2024, DOE will offer six different types of summer programs, including official summer school and learning hubs. Official summer school provides courses students can take for credit, while learning hubs have a variety of programs targeting academic remediation, social development and more.

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