After-school programs once again targeted in budget
- Last year, President Donald Trump sought the elimination of funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which serves almost almost two million children across the country — and while that funding was restored, the same suggestion in on the table for the 2019 budget, EdSource reports.
- Elizabeth C. Babcock, chief public engagement officer at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, said the argument that the controversial program does not benefit students academically is not accurate and overlooks the safety and social-emotional learning aspects of the program.
- Babcock also contends that cutting the program would destroy some public-private partnerships that allow students increased exposure to career options and STEM learning, and that it would interfere with equitable learning opportunities.
After-school programs play an essential role in the lives of many students who would otherwise be left on their own when the school day ends. According to data on 21st Century Community Learning Centers program from the 2013-14 school year, the latest data available, over 2.2 million people have been served by the program, most of them (36%) were Hispanic. Almost 30% of students were white, and 22% were black. Academically, the program has not shown phenomenal success. Only 5.4% reported improvement on state assessments in elementary reading, 12.6% in middle school mathematics, and 9.6% in high school mathematics, according to the report, and these figures likely increase its odds of being an ongoing target in the education budget.
The program has its advocates and detractors, with some researchers touting the benefits of the program and others testifying before Congress that it does actual harm by increasing behavioral issues and odds of suspension at school. While many parents and educators can see clear educational and economic benefits to providing additional programming after school in an environment that is conducive to learning, it may be that the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program needs to be restructured and viewed as an economic or welfare program, rather than as a primarily educational one. This reassignment may stand a better chance of protecting a program that benefits some of the nation’s most at-risk citizens until ways to improve the educational aspects of the program are identified.