By Mary Niederberger
Pittsburgh Current Education Writer
A month ago, the future of the community learning hubs that were serving more than 1,700 students who needed a supervised setting during online school days in the fall was uncertain as initial funding was running dry.
But now, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services has partnered with local foundations to ensure that 60 hubs throughout the county will remain open through the school year if they are needed.
Elaine Plunkett, DHS communications specialist, said the department has already secured $500,000 in foundation funding and is applying for grants with additional foundations at the same time it is leveraging department funds to keep the hubs in operation.
Currently, three foundations have agreed to provide some funding. Those foundations and grant amounts are: the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, $100,000; Jefferson Regional Foundation, $200,000; and McElhattan Foundation $200,000.
“The 60 learning hubs (30 are outside of Pittsburgh) are critical resources for children and families,” Plunkett wrote in an email.
Those sentiments were echoed by James Fogarty, executive director of A+Schools advocacy group.
“The learning hubs provide a critical space for children to learn safely and get support and be able to focus on their school and get a meal provided. We know if they were closed more kids would go hungry, more kids would fail school and more kids would become disengaged and isolated without them,” Fogarty said.
Fogarty said a large majority of students using the hubs were children of essential workers, including health care workers, supermarket employees and those who drive public transportation vehicles.
Currently, Pittsburgh schools are still fully online but officials are hoping to bring back some students to classrooms in a hybrid model on Feb. 8 if COVID cases and percent positivity rates decline from the high number expected from a post-holiday boost. That model would have groups of students attending in-person two days a week and remotely for three days.
Fogarty pointed out that even with a hybrid model, the hubs would still be needed three days a week for those students and for others who remain learning online.
In mid-December, Pittsburgh Current reported the Pittsburgh Learning Collaborative (PLC) asked the Pittsburgh Public Schools to provide $2 million for the continued operation of the community learning hubs which were operated by nonprofit agencies through the city and county, predicting that the hubs would close without additional funding.
The PLC includes more than 70 organizations and individuals organized by the A+Schools advocacy group.
But the Pittsburgh district’s $39.5 million budget deficit makes it unlikely that it would be able to find funding for the hubs.
Initial funding for the learning hubs came from $4.35 million in CARES ACT funding from the county’s $59.9 million share of the federal funding. They were organized by a coalition that included the Pittsburgh Schools, the county, United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and community partner agencies just before the Aug. 31 start of online classes in the Pittsburgh district.
Plunkett did not say how much county money would be used for the hubs, but she said DHS “hopes to secure enough funding to support the learning hubs through the end of the school year if needed.”