Not one penny.
That’s what President Trump included for after school programs in the budget his administration just proposed for Fiscal Year 2019. It’s astonishing, given the enormous value of after school programs and their near-universal popularity. Yet there it was in black-and white: For the second year in a row, the administration wants to zero out the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative – the principal federal funding stream for after school and summer learning programs.
If Congress had approved the President’s after school budget proposal last year, or if it does so this year, families across the country that rely on these programs will suffer terribly. Programs will lose a key source of funding and some will close their doors. New programs won’t be created to take their place. Parents won’t have the peace of mind that comes with a safe, affordable place to send their kids in the afternoons. Instead of getting homework help, opportunities for hands-on learning and physical activities, many more students will be unsupervised and at risk after the school day ends and before parents get home from their jobs.
Here in Cranston, Rhode Island programs that our working families rely on for not only a safe space but academic help and social emotional growth will close their doors without a plan to open. These programs will not have enough time to come up with other funding sources as budgets are already stretched thin.
It’s not just students and parents who are warning us about the consequences of de-funding after school programs. Educators recognize these programs as essential to student success. Police chiefs and other law enforcement leaders see them as essential for helping students avoid risky behaviors and stay out of trouble in the afternoons. Business leaders see them as essential for preparing the workforce of the future.
Reams of research support those conclusions, demonstrating beyond a doubt that after school programs keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and give parents peace of mind during the sometimes-perilous hours after the school day ends and before parents return home from their jobs. After school programs improve student attendance in school, increase graduation rates and help improve students’ grades. They also provide myriad opportunities for hands-on learning in science and the arts, community engagement, and much more.
That’s exactly why Congress rightly and roundly rejected the President’s proposal for after school this year – even though Congress was controlled by the President’s own party. In Fiscal Year 2018, Congress appears on track to hold funding for the 21st CCLC initiative steady, at or near its current level of $1.192 billion in Fiscal Year 2018. In the overall the federal budget, that’s a very small slice of the pie. But federal dollars make a huge difference, supporting after school for about 1.7 million students across the United States, many of them from disadvantaged communities.
Still, it’s impossible to know what will happen this year. The fact that Congress rejected the president’s proposal last year doesn’t diminish the threat this year, and the president’s persistence in trying to de-fund after school is an ominous sign. Supporters of after school have a huge amount of work to do to convince Congress not to backslide on after school funding.
But do that work we will. With so much at stake – for the children and families that depend on after school programs, for our communities and our country – we won’t let up. We hope you will help us deliver the message that afterschool programs are an investment in children and families, and in our future. And well worth every penny we invest.
Jodi Grant is the executive director of the Afterschool Alliance. Ayana Crichton is the initiative director for OneCranston through Comprehensive Community Action Program.