Supporting Community-Based Summer Interventions Serving Low-Income Students to Narrow the Achievement Gap: An Analysis of the Challenges of Securing and Maintaining Funding
Hall, Lavinia Jane
Rice, Jennifer K.
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Research suggests that the summer learning gap between lower- and upper-income students makes a significant contribution to the achievement gap and that quality summer programs can be important interventions in addressing the differential learning over the summer months. Because the quality and effectiveness of summer interventions may be related to their funding, this multi-site case study analyzed the challenges of securing and maintaining funding for four community-based summer interventions located in Maryland. I used resource dependence theory in my study to highlight the dependence of community-based summer interventions on external providers to fund their summer programs. This theory draws attention to the demands that external providers place on community-based summer interventions for funding as well as highlights the role of internal capacity in how organizations respond to those demands. I focused on community-based summer interventions, and not school-based summer interventions, because community-based summer interventions may be a productive means to implement summer programs and address the summer learning gap. Literature suggests that, in comparison to school-based summer interventions, community-based summer interventions may face unique challenges in funding their programs and utilize different internal resources to respond to the demands of external providers. My four cases were community-based summer interventions that focused on academic goals, targeted low-income, elementary or middle school students, and offered a minimum of 80 hours of programming. To create a purposeful sample of cases that reflect potential differences in internal capacity, I selected programs that varied in the type of community-based summer intervention (e.g., nationally-affiliated versus grass-roots), whether or not the program received 21st Century Community Learning Center funding, and location. To provide contrast in the challenges of funding summer interventions, I allowed several criteria to vary, including funding sources and quality indicators of the program. To understand the challenges of securing and maintaining funding for community-based summer interventions, I interviewed administrators, staff members, and board members in each program. I collected documents from each program to provide additional insights into the summer programs and their funding. This exploratory study answers questions about the challenges of funding community-based academic summer programs serving low-income students. Four findings emerged. First, the community-based summer interventions included in this study relied upon multiple funding sources, but different primary funders to support their summer programs. Second, the most persuasive challenges in depending upon external providers for funding were revenue volatility and the pressure for accountability. Third, the community-based summer interventions mediated their funding challenges through a unique combination of their internal capacity and program characteristics. Data highlights the role of human and social capital and the importance of program location, type of community-based organization, program size, and years of operation in the response of programs to funding challenges. Fourth, funding challenges were most likely to affect the quality indicators of differentiated or advanced-skills instruction, prior interaction between students and teachers, and adequate contact hours through limited teacher salaries, teacher training, and materials. This study is significant because it begins to answer questions about the challenges of funding community-based summer interventions, the role of internal capacity to mediate the funding challenges, and the relationship between funding sources and challenges and the quality indicators of summer interventions.