President Trump’s “skinny budget” for the coming fiscal year is chock full of proposed cutbacks to longstanding federal programs. But one of his most surprising candidates for elimination is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative, the principal federal funding stream for after-school programs.
Incredibly, the rationale offered by the Trump administration for its proposal to eliminate 21st CCLC is that after-school programs don’t work. That assertion flies in the face of more than a decade’s worth of solid research. A range of studies have demonstrated that children who participate in quality after-school programs, especially those who attend regularly, improve in a number of areas.
Several studies have shown that after-school students show improvement in some of the key building blocks of academic success, including school-day attendance and behavior. Not surprisingly, those improvements also lead to improved test scores and grades among after-school students, according to researchers.
For example, a 2016 evaluation of 21st CCLC-funded programs in Texas found that students with high attendance at their after-school program saw gains in their math performance, improved attendance and a drop in school-day disciplinary incidents. A similar evaluation in 2013 found that after-school students were more likely than their peers to be promoted to the next grade.
Texas is hardly unique. Evaluations of 21st CCLC programs in California, Washington state and Wisconsin all found improvements on several criteria—reading and math achievement, class participation, overall GPA, behavior and motivation to learn.
Those evaluations of 21st CCLC-funded programs take their place alongside reams of research on after-school programs funded by a variety of sources. That research is every bit as compelling, demonstrating with data what parents and educators recognize on sight: After-school programs keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families.
According to research from the Afterschool Alliance, about 10.2 million children across the nation participate in after-school programs—based in schools, community centers, YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, religious institutions and other settings. An additional 19.4 million children would participate, if a program were available to them, according to their parents. That means for every child now in after school, two more would be, if their parents had been able to find a suitable program for them.
That’s a lot of demand. Right now, federal funding supports after-school programs for only a small minority of those children—about 1.6 million. This funding also helps programs leverage much-needed support from a range of partners, which can make it possible for programs to provide snacks to children who would otherwise go hungry, recruit mentors for older youth and much more.
Eliminating 21st CCLC would force any number of programs to shrink or close, so instead of helping to meet at least part of the unmet demand, the federal government would simply walk away, leaving all those additional children and their families in the lurch.
People whose lives are touched by after school could hardly conclude otherwise. After-school programs open up new horizons for children, help them with their homework, connect them to their communities, help them find their passions—all while keeping them safe and constructively engaged. That, of course, is why after school is wildly popular with the public, and why the response to the president’s proposal to slash funding for children in after school has been so pronounced.
More than 1,400 organizations—139 national and 1,315 state and local—recently signed onto a letter calling on Congress to reject the president’s proposed cutback.
That remarkable show of support might also help explain why the Fiscal Year 2017 budget agreement recently reached by Congress increased funding for 21st CCLC slightly. There’s still a huge risk to 21st CCLC funding for next year, but that was a clear indication that Congress is hearing the message from parents, educators and community leaders across the nation who recognize the value in after school—a value the president’s team seems not to appreciate.