The Committee was following an eleventh-hour recommendation by Senator Tom Harkin's (D-IA) Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which chose to use a spending bill to push through a controversial rewrite of education laws. Many think Congress should more appropriately have considered this kind of policy change as part of reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Calling the move "a grave and potentially costly error," Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant said, "at a time when 15 million children and youth in this country have no safe, supervised activities after the school days ends, we need to protect funding for afterschool and summer learning programs - not divert it. We recognize that the Committee action was prompted by the Administration's interest in extending the school day and the desire to support an Administration priority. It is truly unfortunate that the Administration and now the Senate Appropriations Committee want to fund extended day programs at the expense of proven afterschool programs. The afterschool community supports testing extended day programs, but with a new funding stream."
Extending the school day by 30 minutes - or even an hour - will not mean that children are in safe, enriching environments until their parents return home from work at 6 or 7 PM, she noted.
The Afterschool Alliance applauded the Senate Committee for including a much-needed $100 million increase for 21st CCLC funding, but warned that the policy change adopted with it would mean that these additional dollars - as well as much of the funding that supports afterschool programs now - would likely be diverted, which will harm working families and leave more children unsupervised in the hours after school.
"This is no way to educate or protect our children, or support working families," Grant said.
In an unusually direct rebuke, Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) said at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee: "... studies that have shown that students enrolled in afterschool programs perform better on tests as compared to other students in the same district. The proven benefit to children who participate in afterschool programs is well studied and well documented. As a result, I was deeply disappointed to see the Senate Appropriations bill change the 21st Century Community Learning Center program in such a way that will split funding for afterschool programs with other costly initiatives. Local and state initiatives can and are having a tremendous impact... but they need consistent support from the federal government to remain effective."
In stark contrast, a few weeks earlier the House of Representatives' Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee voted to increase the budget for the 21st CCLC initiative by $35 million, with no provision for funds to be used for any purpose other than supporting afterschool programs.
"We thank Chairman David Obey (D-WI) for championing afterschool and including this increase in the appropriation. We also want to thank Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) for their continuing leadership in pressing to increase afterschool funding. We fully recognize that these are difficult budget times, and congratulate Subcommittee members for recognizing the wisdom and value of investing in afterschool," Grant said.
Even with the increase, current funding for 21st CCLC is less than half the $2.5 billion authorized several years ago, which itself is a fraction of what is needed to make afterschool programs available to all children who need them.
In February, the Administration proposed to level fund 21st CCLC, in addition to a consolidation with other programs which would have essentially been a $13 million cut to the program. The House Subcommittee vote provides 21st CCLC with almost $50 million more than requested in the Administration's budget.
The House and Senate spending bills will proceed to floor votes. The proposal to divert afterschool funding in the Senate bill could be challenged on the floor on a "point of order," for attempting to legislate new policy in a spending bill.
If both chambers pass their spending bills - and several times in recent years they have not - a conference committee will be appointed to iron out differences between the two proposals.
Afterschool supporters will work to build support in the Senate for the point of order that objects to using an appropriation to divert afterschool funds to extended day programs, and to convince a conference committee to adopt the House's afterschool budget.
The Afterschool Alliance is encouraging the afterschool community to reach out to federal lawmakers to remind them that working families and communities need afterschool programs.
"Now more than ever, we need the community to reach out to lawmakers with messages about the need for more quality afterschool programs," Grant said. The Afterschool Alliance has posted an alert to Congress online, and is encouraging summer program directors to invite both Senators and Representatives to their programs during the August congressional recess so they can see first-hand how these programs help students and families.
Follow the latest policy news and updates from the Afterschool Alliance here.
This story originally appeared in the Afterschool Advocate (Vol. 11, Issue 7).
Click here to read the rest of this issue.