FALLS CITY — The Family Academics Community and Enrichment for Success program, aka FACES, in Falls City was passed over for a third 21st Century Community Learning Center grant.
That means the program is scrambling to make up for the $298,000 that the grant would have provided the program over the next five years. FACES will have to wait for the next five-year cycle to reapply for the funding. The grant is structured to provide 100 percent funding for three years and 75 percent and 50 percent in the fourth and fifth years, respectively.
FACES Director Amy Houghtaling said she was notified on June 29 that FACES application — the third the program has submitted — was scored too low to be awarded money. The program launched 10 years ago and has grown steadily in activities and enrichment classes offered, Houghtaling said.
“We’re still just dumbfounded and devastated,” Houghtaling said July 6.
The notification was more than four weeks late, according to ODE’s timeline. Application scorers were being trained on the day districts were supposed to receive notification, Houghtaling said.
As of July 6, she’s received no response from the Office of Teaching, Learning and Assessment, which manages the grant on behalf of the federal government.
“Of course, the five-year grant wasn’t for sure, but we have a pretty prominent, ongoing program for 10 years that is serving our community in a huge capacity,” Houghtaling said. “We’ve always been in good standing with the state and have had good program evaluations.”
On July 6, the district sent a letter of appeal to ODE, questioning whether the scorers had the background and information to judge a rural district’s application.
It also listed as concerns that the state didn’t follow its own time line and the lack of information provided since denial.
“While reviewing our application, we have agonized over what could have gone wrong. Given that we have not received any specific feedback, the process has only left us guessing,” the letter read. “Given that your department did not honor its own time line, that scorers were not hired and trained in a timely manner, that meaningful feedback is not being provided, we appeal the decision not to grant Falls City School District any 21st Century Community Learning Center funds.”
The failure to receive the grant means that FACES will have to scale back unless it finds other grants, donations, and volunteers to make up for losses. Houghtaling said there’s one things she’s certain of — the program is essential to students and families.
FACES offers three terms of enrichment classes — such as acting, cooking, videography and 3D printing — and help with homework all school year. It sponsors Friday field trips and job programs for older students.
“We need FACES to exist. That provides our students with one extra meal in the afternoon, provides them with activities they’re not going to get, and experiences outside of Falls City,” Houghtaling said. “And work experience some of them don’t have the ability to leave Falls City for. We are going to figure out how we are going to make FACES exist, but we need help.”
Lynn Bailey, FACES’ sustainability coordinator, said she and Houghtaling have spent the time since notification informing community partners and asking for help finding alternate funding sources.
“It’s very disappointing, but I feel like we are not going down without a fight,” Bailey said.
She said it’s frustrating because she’s been involved since the beginning 10 years ago and has seen it become a necessity for students and their parents. Bailey said field trips on Friday may be one of the cuts.
“That’s likely going to be a hardship for our families,” she said. “That was a safe place to have kids while they are at work on Fridays.”
She said that local and state grant organizations have been supportive of the program, allowing it to not only maintain enrichment classes and work opportunities, but expand them in the last two years.
“It’s grown into this pretty amazing program,” she said. “It’s absolutely heartbreaking that we don’t know for sure how to keep it going.”
Houghtaling said FACES staff will meet with the Falls City School Board soon to see if the district can offer any financial support and prioritize what the program needs to offer to serve meals and meet other grant obligations.
“We are not giving up hope. We’re going to make sure that we have some sort of programming for our youth,” she said. “It’s just going to be a lot of work and we are already wearing so many multiple hats in our district. We’ll get there.”