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$2.8M awarded to expand Montana afterschool programs

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Posted at 2:47 PM, Dec 29, 2021

HELENA — Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen has announced afterschool organizations across the state will get $2.8 million to expand their programs.

Yet a Bozeman organization that applied for the money told MTN News Wednesday that it had been denied — along with the two other applicants in Gallatin County, the fastest-growing county in the state — because they hadn’t shown that they served enough low-income kids.

Abby Hunter, executive director of the Montana Science Center in Bozeman, said the center is appealing the decision, because the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) disallowed a measuring standard the center was told initially it could use, to gauge its number of low-income customers.

OPI announced the grants on Dec. 22, for 70 after-school programs, run by nonprofit organizations and schools in more than 40 cities and towns. The money — from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — is intended to help address the child-care shortage in Montana and other states across the nation.

Grant applicants have told MTN News that OPI’s process for awarding the money has been changed multiple times and that they worried the money wouldn’t be available for the school semesters beginning next month.

Arntzen said in an interview on Dec. 19 that the initial grants would be unveiled last week, as initially planned — although groups seeking the funds had yet to submit a formal application, which was supposed to be available in November.

Arntzen and OPI officials said more than twice-as-many groups expressed interest as expected, so the office decided to distribute the funds based on information submitted in “intent to apply” letters in early November.

They also said the grants might have to be spread over two years, instead of three, because so many groups sought the money.

About $3.8 million of ARPA funds are available for after-school programs in Montana. The initial amount announced last week for 2022 -- $2.8 million – is almost three-fourths of the total amount. OPI said grant recipients can re-apply for more money for 2023.

OPI released a list of recipients last week but hasn’t provided a list of how much money each organization will receive.

OPI officials said the money would be distributed through an electronic-grant program. If grant recipients don’t currently have access to the electronic process, they have until Jan. 14 to submit an application, so they can access their award, the office said this week.

Many of the after-school grant recipients are new to the electronic-grant process and must submit the additional application, the office said.

Hunter said all three applicants from Gallatin County — including the Montana Science Center — were denied a grant, on the grounds that they didn’t serve enough low-income children.

She said OPI gave groups the option of three “metrics” they could use in their intent-to-apply letters, to measure the number of low-income kids they might serve – but that OPI then later disallowed the metric that the center had chosen, without informing the center.