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VALLEY FOCUS | Valleywide

LA's BEST Program Gets State Funding

January 22, 1998|DARRELL SATZMAN

LA's BEST, a highly regarded after-school program that provides tutoring, sports and arts to 5,000 students at 24 Los Angeles elementary schools, will receive more than $1 million from the State Department of Education in the next school year, officials said.

The program was one of five statewide selected by the Education Department to receive funds from a bill passed in October that provides $3.5 million for literacy-based activities, said LA's BEST President Carla Sanger.

The award, which totals $1,087,182, came at a good time for LA's BEST (Better Educated Students for Tomorrow). Because of a change in state law, the organization will no longer receive money from the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, which has covered most of its operating budget since the program was established by Mayor Tom Bradley in 1988. About 25% of the LA's BEST budget comes from private donations.

"It was quite a struggle because we don't fit in the typical mold," Sanger said. "This was a vote of confidence from the state Department of Education about alternative after-school programs."

Despite vows by Mayor Richard Riordan and other government leaders to keep LA's BEST running, the future of the program seemed in doubt in September, when it became clear that the CRA money would dry up at the end of the fiscal year in June.

LA's BEST must still raise $1.5 million to meet its $3.3-million budget for the 1998-99 school year, officials said.

"I am confident that the political will exists to keep this program going," Sanger said. "I can't imagine that a program with these collective results is going to go out of business. We should be talking about expanding, not survival."

Located in areas deemed most vulnerable to drugs, gangs and crime, LA's BEST offers a safe and productive alternative to being home alone or out on the streets after school and is enormously popular with its young participants and their parents.

But although LA's BEST has won acclaim and emulators across the country, budget problems have stalled program expansion. It operates at just 24 of the Los Angeles School District's 418 elementary campuses.

Valley schools account for five of the 24 LA's BEST sites.

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