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21st Century Community Learning Centers Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 introduced in House

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21st Century Community Learning Centers Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 introduced in House

Today, in a move the afterschool community welcomes, U.S. Representative Susan Wild (D-PA) along with Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Dwight Evans (D-PA), and Don Young (R-AK) introduced the bipartisan 21st Century Community Learning Centers Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 which is designed to help expand access to supervised learning for students through the remainder of the COVID-19 emergency. The legislation provides flexibility to the Nita M. Lowey 21st CCLC program to help parents return to the workforce and help children continue their learning in an academically supportive environment, even when schools are operating virtually and not offering classes in-person.

In announcing the introduction of the bill, Rep. Wild said, “This week, thousands of students throughout my community began their school year, and whether their schools have adopted remote, hybrid, or in-person learning models, parents and children are both adjusting to a new normal…I’ve heard from hundreds of parents across my community concerned about how they will tackle this school year – how they find affordable child care, how they make sure their children don’t fall academically behind, and how they get back to work. Right now, they need options and flexibility – and without it, our students, our workers, and our economy will all pay the price.”

As a result of the health challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many school districts will provide academic instruction through remote or hybrid learning models for part or all of the 2020-2021 school year. Estimates suggest that this fall, nearly 24 million workers with children between the ages of 6 and 14 will have no at-home child care option. This new bipartisan legislation allows flexibility in 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant funded programs to expand their in-person or virtual operations to allow programming during traditional school hours when school is occurring not physically in-person but rather virtually or in a hybrid setting. . The legislation only applies to the 2020-2021 school year. It would leverage existing partnerships between schools, community-based organizations, nonprofits, local government, and other afterschool providers to create options for families and cultivate environments in which K-12 students can receive additional academic support, school-aged children can receive safe and affordable supervised learning during the day, and working parents are able to return to and stay in the workforce.

In introducing the bill, the following bill co-sponsors spoke out in support of the legislation:

 “The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, and our school districts need immediate relief. We need to give school districts maximum flexibility to access relief funds so that our community can support students, faculty, and staff. Congress must ensure that our school districts can provide the best quality of education during these turbulent times.  This bipartisan legislation will give 21st Century Community Learning Centers short-term flexibility for the upcoming school year to provide services to K-12 students during traditional school hours. Every student deserves a quality education, and this bill will help our students receive the academic support and resources they need to reach their full potential,” Rep. Fitzpatrick said.

Congresswoman Bonamici added: “These are very challenging times. Parents wrestle with how to juggle remote learning for their children while they struggle to find safe and affordable child care options and work or run a business…I am pleased to support additional flexibility for the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers program to help provide low-income, school-aged children with a safe, supportive, and academically enriching environment.”

"Now more than ever, 21st Century Community Learning Centers play a critical role in supporting our children through academic enrichment and access to engaging and safe learning environments…Normally, the program focuses on initiatives that occur after school, but these are anything but normal times. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way our children learn, and we must ensure that this critical grant program can adapt. Educators, administrators, and the students they teach need and deserve funding flexibility so that learning can continue during this public health crisis,” Congressman Young added.

The bipartisan legislation is endorsed by the Afterschool Alliance, After-School All-Stars, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Classroom, Inc., Girls, Inc., National Association of Elementary School Principals, Forum for Youth Investment, and National AfterSchool Association. Its full text can be found here.

The bill introduction comes just a day after the U. S. Department of Education recognized the need for 21st CCLC flexibility, announcing a waiver for state education agencies seeking to allow local 21st CCLC programs to support students during the virtual school day. The bill and the waivers work together in providing the flexibility needed to give parents and students the support they need during this challenging school year.  

The legislation could be included as part of the next COVID relief bill, which Congress is expected to consider later this month. Just as important as the 21st CCLC flexibility is the need for additional 21st CCLC funding so programs can safely serve students during longer program hours. The Afterschool Alliance and a coalition of organizations is calling for at least $6.2 billion in supplemental funding for 21st CCLC in the next COVID-19 relief package.  These additional funds will help programs implement longer hours, reduce student/staff ratios, obtain alternate spaces as needed, and implement additional cleaning safety measures. Programs and families recognize this funding as essential, as programs strive to meet students’ needs as parents return to work.

You can use your voice and experience to share the need for additional afterschool program support including space, the need for more time and more staff, the successes, and also the challenges around sanitation and safety, local funding shortages, and the uncertainties ahead. Your elected officials at all levels want to know how your students and families are doing, how the program is fairing, and what they can do to ensure afterschool programs can support students this fall. Check out our action alert tool here for a template and be sure to add your own experiences!

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