A popular afterschool program based in Bigfork has lost its annual funding after it did not receive a grant from the state.
Bigfork ACES (Arts, Community, Education, Sports) hosts afterschool programming for children of all ages, and has branches of afterschool programs in Kila, Marion and Deer Park schools.
For the last six years, the program has received $200,000 a year in funding from the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant program through the state Office of Public Instruction. But the Bigfork program’s recent application to reinstall the funding was denied.
Cathy Hay, the site coordinator for the Bigfork branch of the ACES program, said they received about three weeks notice that their funding would be cut.
“It affects about 1,000 kids in afterschool programs around the valley,” Hay said.
According to OPI, changes in the application requirements led to larger grants to fewer organizations. Of the 40 applications, 16 shared the $3 million.
“They chose to fund larger programs with more money, which resulted in quite a few rural programs getting cut,” Hay said. “It was a huge blow to a lot of programs throughout the state, and unfortunately it was a huge blow to us too.”
Dylan Klapmeier, spokesperson for OPI, said the changes in the application process were partly due to changes in federal education law, and that the Bigfork ACES program not receiving funding isn’t a statement on the program’s worth.
“Those changes have resulted in changes in how we disperse funds,” Klapmeier said. “It doesn’t reflect on quality of programs here in the Flathead.”
OPI sent out a press release in July detailing the grant funding, and said there were fewer recipients this year because “there were increased expectations on program outcomes which resulted in larger grant awards than previous years.
Grants were also awarded to ensure geographic diversity.”
Bigfork ACES has a busy summer schedule working with low-income families: the staff provides a week of all-day daycare for $40, runs several summer camps, and feeds kids breakfast and lunch every day.
“We’re literally feeding 50 kids breakfast and up to 70 kids lunch every single day,” Hay said. “It’s a huge deal and it’s a huge need.”
Hay said she’s heard from other small programs that didn’t receive funding, and that there’s been a backlash against the funding structure. She said there is an option to reapply for funding next year. And she knows the Bigfork community is already swooping in with support for the program.
“Bigfork is a wonderful community; I think they’ll rally. Rotary is on it; others have approached us,” Hay said. “My gut is that they’ll rally because the program is targeted at low-income kids.”
There will be a benefit concert for the Bigfork ACES program at 7 p.m. on Aug. 15 at the Community United Methodist Church, featuring folk, gospel and country music from Don Julian, Coleene Torgerson and Larry Whitney, with storytelling from Kay Pricher.
Anyone interested in donating to or otherwise helping out the Bigfork ACES program can call Cathy Hays at (406) 837-3414 or email at email@example.com.