- Federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grant funding was threatened once again this year because of reports that cited lack of evidence of the value of such programs; however, the recent budget agreement includes $1.21 billion in funding for after-school and summer programs that provide homework assistance, nutritious meals and enrichment activities for low-income students, EdSource reports.
- In California, state funds support elementary and middle school after-school programs for more than 400,000 elementary and middle school students, while federal funds are the primary source of funding for high school and summer programs.
- Advocates of after-school and summer programs argue that they provide safe environments for children outside of school hours, increase school attendance rates, and improve graduation rates in addition to supporting social and emotional development and improving academic skills.
The recent passage of the budget is welcome news to many educators who feared that after-school and summer programming would be slashed in the budget. Trump at first had planned to cut the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant program based on reported evidence that the program did not meet its educational goals. In fact, an early Department of Education's report on the program “showed basically no effect on academic outcomes and negative effects on child behavior.”
However, other studies, such as one conducted by the Harvard Family Research Project, argued that “strategic investments in evaluation research over the past 15 years have yielded significant evidence that 21st Century Community Learning Centers and high-quality programs that serve children and youth during the non-school hours are essential for preparing young people for the future.” The conclusions of these studies may differ, in part, due to the timing of the reports and the quality of the after-school programs evaluated. Quality programs will not only offer good academic support, but will also provide social-emotional support, leadership training and teaching of other soft skills that keep students on track for future social and career success.
As more research is conducted, schools are learning what works and what doesn’t. There is evidence to suggest that after-school programs work best if there is clear communication between the classroom and after-school tutors and if academic help is personalized to the student. There is also evidence to suggest that students respond better to such help if it is offered by someone closer to their age and of a similar background. Though federal funding for these programs are safe for now, schools need to work hard to make sure that these programs are as effective as possible, not only for the sake of the students, but also because evidence of their effectiveness may be needed for future funding to continue.