Celebrating Afterschool Couldn't Come at a Better Timeby Ursula Helminski
So much has been going on in the afterschool movement these past few weeks, it is hard to know where to begin. We’ve had inspiring moments. Intensely frustrating policy developments. Exhilarating waves of grassroots action. And very worrisome threats to the future of 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC).
I’m on my first cup of coffee this morning, so let me start with the good news.
More than a million Americans celebrated the 12th annual Lights On Afterschool last Thursday, October 20. Youth, community leaders, parents, program staff and elected officials joined together to show their support for the afterschool programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families. US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan celebrated with youth at a community school in Chicago. Dozens of sites lit up landmarks for afterschool, from the Empire State Building in New York City and the La Grand Vitesse Sculpture in Grand Rapids, MI, to the Battleship Texas in La Porte, TX, and the Civic Center Monument in Compton, CA. Five outstanding afterschool programs were each awarded $10,000 from the MetLife Foundation for their work serving middle school students.
Each year, the energy and creativity of Lights On Afterschool celebrations remind me how programs are lighting up the lives of children. Two new studies released right around Lights On Afterschool provided a nice complement: an Education Next article cites that the odds of attending college are 97% greater for kids who take part in afterschool, and a survey of superintendents found that 4 in 5 agree that expanded learning programs are important and improve performance and social interaction.
Now for the bad news.
This past week we saw once again that not enough is being invested in afterschool—and that current resources are under threat. Our State-by-State Afterschool Progress Reports & Consumer Guides, released Lights On day, found most states lacking in afterschool supports. No state earned the highest score of 5. Twenty-one states earned a 1 or 2 out of a possible 5, and just nine states earned a rank of 4.
Just as the report went out, the Senate HELP Committee passed its version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The bill, as originally introduced, would allow states to use 21st CCLC funds to implement a comprehensive redesign of the school day and weaken the school-community focus of the initiative. We at the Afterschool Alliance, along with organizations like the YMCA of the USA and the Collaborative to Build After School Systems (CBASS), reached out to Senate HELP Committee members to express concern over this language and the diminished role of community-based organizations in the new bill. An amendment offered by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) made some good improvements, but leaves a lot of work to be done to ensure that quality afterschool, before-school and summer programs continue to thrive under 21st CCLC. As it now stands, the language still allows 21st CCLC funds to be used for expensive, full-scale school redesign. If ESEA reauthorization does not pass in the coming year, the Department of Education has begun a waiver process that also could make similar, radical changes to the 21st CCLC initiative.
More than one thousand parents and friends of afterschool programs contacted their Senators this week to express concern over the proposed changes and to show their support for the amendments that would strengthen afterschool programs in the ESEA reauthorization bill. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has stated that his desire is for the amended ESEA reauthorization bill to go to the Senate floor for a final vote before the end of the calendar year. The floor debate represents an additional opportunity to amend the bill and for afterschool advocates to voice their opinion on the bill. Make sure your voice is heard. Contact Congress today.