10/10/2011 02:11 pm ET Updated Dec 10, 2011

After School Matters To Cut Student Paychecks By 75 Percent

Students in Chicago's After School Matters program, which supports student participation in after school enrichment programs by providing participants with stipends, will face pay cuts of up to 75 percent this month as a result of funding reductions from Chicago Public Schools and the state of Illinois, as well as a shift in programming priorities.

WBEZ's Linda Lutton found that students who were earning roughly $5 an hour in 2009 will now make about $1.10 an hour, which participants, parents and advocates worry will force students out of participation in a program that has kept them off the streets and engaged in career-forwarding after-school activities.

After School Matters board member Avis LaVelle told WBEZ that the shift in spending represents a focus on replacing low-impact, "club" programs with more rigorous and expensive apprenticeships, without reducing the number of students served. But a Northwestern University professor who just completed a study of the program told WBEZ that Chicago's paid programming model is what makes it stand out from less successful after school programs elsewhere. From WBEZ:

Northwestern University professor Bart Hirsch just finished an evaluation of After School Matters. He says nationally, participation in after school programs by high school students tends to be weak; most programs are targeted toward younger children. In Chicago, kids clamor for a spot within the program...Hirsch found kids in After School Matters were less likely to be involved in “problem behaviors” than kids in other after school programs.

"The fact that they were paid some money might make them less likely to have to engage in those types of activities such as selling drugs or being involved in a gang because they got the money from After School Matters."

The stipends also help combat staggering teen unemployment numbers, whose record highs--up 67 percent in Illinois since 2005--were addressed at a recent summit in Chicago. During May's summit, some predicted that higher unemployment rates for teens in Chicago could spark a rise in youth-perpetrated violence this summer, which proved to be so true that several high-profile deaths prompted an anti-violence march in Englewood in August.

Beyond keeping students off the streets, advocates for After School Matters' higher stipend business model say compensating students for their involvement can have even farther-reaching positive impacts. One 17-year-old participant, Jovani Garcia, told WBEZ he used his stipend money this summer to help pay for his family's expenses.

"It was like around $900, so I gave them $500, and I kept the rest," he told Linda Lutton. When she asked how his parents spent that money, he said "I think on the house, mortgage thing."

After School Matters recently came under fire following an audit by the Inspector General alleging that the Daley administration directed an unfairly large proportion of TIF-recipient donations to the nonprofit, which was founded by the former Mayor's wife Maggie Daley. The organization issued a statement calling the allegations "flat-out false."