Budget Fights Likely This Year For Afterschool

At a time of record deficits, and with a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives that is vowing to dramatically reduce federal spending, funding for afterschool programs is likely to be a significant concern this year.

At the end of last year, Congress extended the Fiscal Year 2010 budget through early March, meaning that funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers will remain at the same level as last year for a few more months. But after that, it is unclear what Congress will do.

The House of Representatives recently passed a resolution that directs the Chair of the House Budget Committee to cut non-security discretionary spending to 2008 levels or less. If implemented, it would result in a cut of $9.42 billion for the Department of Education alone. For 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a return to Fiscal Year 2008 levels would bring an $85 million cut. Click here to see a chart detailing what this cut would mean for each state. However, the Democratically-controlled Senate may not agree to that reduction.

Congress will also try to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) again this year. Called the No Child Left Behind Act under former President Bush, the legislation sets priorities, as well as funding ceilings, for federal education programs. The new bill is expected to give school systems more flexibility and allow or more state and local control over education decisions. There is conjecture that the Administration may rename the bill either Every Child Counts or Race to the Top.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid out his priorities for education. "To win the future... we also have to win the race to educate our kids," he said.

"The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations," he continued. "America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree. And so the question is whether all of us - as citizens, and as parents - are willing to do what's necessary to give every child a chance to succeed... We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair. We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline."

The President called for the hiring of 100,000 more science, technology, engineering and math teachers by the end of the decade. He said his Race to the Top competitive grant program can be a model for the new ESEA.

"This is going to be a critical year for the afterschool community and our work to make quality afterschool programs available to all students who need them," said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant. "We need to defend our gains and press for more, in the face of intense budget pressure and a passionate debate over how students should be enriched and educated outside the traditional school day."

"Advocacy from the afterschool community will be more important than ever," Grant added. "We need to find new and more powerful ways to share our success stories. But we are well-positioned to succeed because quality afterschool programs have such a strong track record of engaging students in science, math and related subjects, helping to deter dropouts, and providing the enrichment activities that make learning fun."

New Congress, New Key Players for Afterschool
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), a founder of the Senate Afterschool Caucus, will be its new co-chair. The bipartisan Caucus is also co-chaired by Senator John Ensign (R-NV). Both the Senate and House Afterschool Caucuses build support for afterschool programs and for increased funding and resources for quality afterschool care.

Senator Boxer replaces Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), a longtime afterschool champion, who retired in December. "I am grateful for Senator Dodd's leadership in championing afterschool programs," she said. "As co-chair of the Afterschool Caucus, I will keep fighting to increase funding for vital afterschool programs because too many children still come home to empty houses in the afternoon and too many families cannot afford to pay for afterschool care."

With the Republicans now the majority in the House of Representatives, the House Education and Workforce Committee (formerly the Education and Labor Committee), has new leadership. Representative John Kline (R-MN) is its new chair, and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) is now the ranking member. The Committee includes 11 freshman Republicans. "They will be key targets for outreach and education about afterschool," Grant said.

Senate leadership of the Health Education Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee remains unchanged, with Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) as committee chair and Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) as ranking member. It will include two new Republicans and two new Democrats. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) has rotated off the Committee.

Learn more about the Afterschool Caucus here. Ask your Senators and Representative to show their support for afterschool programs by joining the Afterschool Caucuses here.

This story originally appeared in the Afterschool Advocate (Vol. 12, Issue 1).

Click here to read the rest of this issue.