U.S. cities, sometimes with the help of private funders, have made investments to improve the quality of the after-school programs that they fund. However, the prolonged financial crisis faced by cities has greatly reduced city agency budgets, forcing agency leaders to make difficult choices between cutting student slots or reducing the quality of programming through cuts to professional development and technical assistance given to after-school providers.
Drawing on interview data with agency leaders in three major cities, this paper explores how leaders make these decisions, the extent to which they protect quality investments, and the factors that influence their decisions. Authors identified a number of factors influencing these agencies’ ability to maintain investments in quality, including agency authority over budget decisions, how city leaders weigh quantity and quality, strategic consideration of political and public interests, and the size of the budget shortfall. Lessons from interviews suggest that private funds and associated public-private partnerships can shift the preference of city agencies, agency heads can make strategic budgetary decisions to help protect quality investments, and improving public understanding about the supports needed to achieve quality can help protect investments in quality.