28 New Beacon Schools Approved

Amidst the fanfare of anti-drug initiatives proposed by the Mayor and the City Council Speaker this fall came funding for the establishment of 28 new Beacon schools. The new programs were funded with $7.6 million to open in the current fiscal year which ends June 30. The 28 new Beacons will cost $13 million annually for full-year operations.

The Beacons are youth and family programs currently operating in 41 public schools throughout the city. Initiated in 1991, Beacons offer recreation, educational enrichment, employment skills, social and health services, inter-generational programs. They are managed by nonprofit organizations. Activities take place during school, after school, during evenings and on weekends. There is currently at least one Beacon in each of the city's 32 school districts. Funding for the programs is made available through the Department of Youth and Community Development and fees are paid to the Board of Education for opening and closing of the buildings.

The new programs were actually approved in two groups, at two different levels of funding. As part of the Mayor's proposal, 10 new Beacons were approved at a cost of $500,000 each per year, or $5 million in total. Further, $250,000 total was included for the 10 to spend on mentoring programs each year. The other 18 new programs, part of the Speaker's proposal, were funded at the level of existing sites, $445,000 per year.

Some budgetary questions remain. First, since the 28 were passed together as a result of November Plan negotiations between the Mayor and the City Council, it is unclear whether 10 new programs still will be funded at a higher level. Second, the new Beacons will not be starting as early as had been planned, resulting in a surplus of funds for fiscal year 1998.

While no specific locations for the new programs have been identified publicly, a number of factors may contribute to which neighborhoods are ultimately chosen. Certain neighborhoods may be targeted based on the number of youth arrests, truancy rates, drug offenses, and other data. Locations may coincide with neighborhoods already identified for anti-drug initiative programs. Also, an effort may be made to ensure that each council district hosts a Beacon school.

Requests for proposals (RFPs) to manage the new programs may be released in February.