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Children showed up to emphasize the need for more after school program funds. (Photo by Kamau High)

With a backdrop of about 100 students and their parents, a majority of the City Council called on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to increase funding for after-school programs and community schools by $4 million on Monday.

Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, a community group that runs Child First, put the event together. Child First is anafter school program serving roughly 1,500 students in 11 public elementary and middle schools. In the wake of the violence that followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the group said that giving children a place to go and activities to do would prevent further unrest.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young addressed the crowd. “There’s a saying that the children are our future,” he said. “Our children are not our future if we don’t take care of them today.”

Diamond Grant, who participates in the Child First program at Furman L. Templeton, was one of the students to speak. She said, “I have to tell you, the last two weeks in my neighborhood have been really sad. I live in the 1900 block of Division Street in Upton, and it was crazy looking at everybody running with shoes, money, candy, and more that they had stolen from the stores. Now, most of the stores are closed and still have to be fixed up from the rioting.

“I think if the students that were out being violent had after school programs, they would not have been looting or hurting people. They would have been learning and having fun, like we do at Child First.”

Forty-five community schools in Baltimore provide after-school programs, and those programs receive about $6 million in funding from the city. A spokesman for the mayor said she is hoping private donors step forward to provide the additional monies.

“As we are able to identify more funds and more opportunities, her track record has shown we’re willing to invest the money there,” spokesman Kevin Harris told the Baltimore Sun. “The mayor’s not just looking at city funding, but other additional partnerships to help us get to the goal. This is an opportunity for everyone to step up to the plate.”

The total proposed budget for Baltimore schools next year is $1.3 billion. That includes $258 million from the city, $900 million from the state and $143 million from the federal government. Gov. Larry Hogan’s proposed state budget reduces funding for Baltimore schools by about $35 million, compared to last year.