by Jackie Reid Dettloff, drawing by Michelle Dettloff

It began as a dream in 1995. Under the name of the Lighted Schoolhouse Project, parents and staff members of three Riverwest elementary schools came together with activists from ESHAC (East Side Housing Action Coalition, the now defunct community organizing agency in Riverwest) and academics from UWM. The idea was to keep our neighborhood public schools open after school was out. To open a health clinic at Pierce, to host family recreation events at Gaenslen, and offer computer classes and family story nights at Fratney. To offer after school tutoring and recreation programs for kids and help working parents who needed childcare for their children. After hundreds of hours of meetings, the dream of the lighted schoolhouse has become the vibrant reality of the Community Learning Centers (CLC) at Fratney, Gaenslen, and Pierce schools. Funded through MPS and administered through the Milwaukee Boys and Girls Clubs, these centers serve about 600 children a week. They provide day-long activities during school holidays. They offer classes that range from African dance to classical ballet, from basketball leagues to music lessons, from drill teams to writing classes, and lots and lots of tutoring and homework help to bolster the learning of the students enrolled. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, archeology, crafts – there is generally no charge for any of these popular programs. But now these programs are on the chopping block. The Bush administration is proposing to cut the funding for CLC programs by 40% next year. This is baffling to me. All the research shows that when kids get into trouble, it is generally between 4 and 7 p.m. That is the crucial block of time when our community learning centers go into full gear. Does the Bush administration want us to cut these programs and have 40% more latch-key kids? Does the Bush administration want to spend more money for more prisons and more police to deal with problems that can come from leaving kids unsupervised? On a purely fiscal level, the proposed cuts do not make sense. Beyond the question of financial sense, I see an ominous trend in this proposal to cut a program which is so beneficial to students and working parents in our community. I see a dramatic decrease in federal spending for social programs at the same time as a dramatic increase in federal spending for our military. It seems that we as a society are being forced to choose between maintaining our quality of life and maintaining our national weapons arsenal. I am provincial and selfish. It bothers me to hear talk about rebuilding Iraq when by so many indicators it looks like our own society is crumbling. I’d say we could use a lot of rebuilding ourselves. So if I am faced with an either/or, if I have to choose between an effective program for families right here in my own neighborhood and a pre-emptive military campaign in some remote country, I come down firmly in favor of my own neighborhood. I don’t want to give up our after-school programs to pay for more army tanks! Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 5 – May 2003