This post was written by our summer intern Anna Olkovsky. She is a junior at Smith College.
Until the 1990s, funding for afterschool programming was provided largely by community organizations, such as the YMCA and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, rather than by the federal government. However, in the mid-1990s, new research began to demonstrate the benefits of afterschool programs, and combined with an increase in the number of parents working outside of the home, the issue of afterschool care was brought to policy makers’ attention. In 1994, Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) and Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.), with support from Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.) and others, introduced The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Act. As described by Jeffords, 21st CCLC would be “centers of activity” in communities, offering “activities and services provided by community members for the benefit of school children...as well as for the benefit of the adult members of the community.” The bill was ultimately folded into The Improving America’s Schools Act, the 1994 reauthorization of the 1965 The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and $750,000 was budgeted for 21st CCLC in FY1995. 21st CCLC programming would “plan, implement, or expand projects that benefit the educational, health, social service, cultural, and recreational needs of a rural or inner-city community,” and each center had to provide at least four from a list of 13 community resources, including senior citizen programming, extended library hours, parenting skills classes, nutrition and health programming, and technology education. Groups that wanted to gain funding for a 21st CCLC applied directly to the Department of Education.
Widespread support for afterschool programs from both public and private sources grew over the next few years. In 1998, the Department of Education and the Justice Department released a report entitled “Safe and Smart: Making the After-School Hours Work for Kids,” which held up afterschool programming as “the best deterrent against juvenile crime and victimization,” and focused on the many benefits that “children, their families, schools, and the whole community” reap as a result of afterschool care, including “increased safety, reduced risk-taking, and improved learning.”
In 1997, The C.S. Mott Foundation partnered with the Department of Education to provide training and technical assistance to 21st CCLC grant recipients. President Clinton, announcing this partnership in 1998, praised the ability of afterschool programs to “keep our kids healthy and happy and safe...[and] teach them to say no to drugs, alcohol, and crime, yes to reading, sports, and computers.” In 1999, Clinton proposed an $800 million increase to 21st CCLC over the next five years, and by FY2001 the program had a budget of $845.6 million.
The 2000 Department of Education grant application offered a detailed description of what opportunities could be available at 21st CCLC, including drama club, swimming lessons at the YMCA, homework help, computer classes, and ESL classes for parents. The Department envisioned 21st CCLC as “hub[s] of learning, recreation, and community involvement for the neighborhood’s children and adults alike,” partnering with organizations such as the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, and the Girl Scouts to provide additional activities for community members.
In 2002, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was signed into law by President Bush. Under NCLB, 21st CCLC underwent significant changes. First, the annual budget authorization for 21st CCLC increased $250 million per year for six years, reaching an authorization level of $2.5 billion in FY2007 - although actual appropriations for 21st CCLC remained around $1 billion. Second, the grant application process became state-based, and states would receive funding based on their share of Title I funds. Third, there became more emphasis on using 21st CCLC to improve academic achievement, which fit the NCLB focus on literacy and math instruction. The original goals of 21st CCLC, including student safety and community resources, remained important to policy makers during the writing of NCLB. As late as September 2000, Rep. Robert Franks (R-NJ.) defined “community learning center” as “an entity that provides educational, recreational, health, and social service programs for youth,” and the final version of NCLB reads that 21st CCLC will “assist students in meeting State and local academic achievement standards,” “provid[e] students with opportunities for...other activities (such as drug and violence prevention, counseling, art, music, recreation, technology and character education programs,” and “offer families of students…opportunities for literacy and related educational development.” NCLB did not dismiss the original purposes of 21st CCLC, but it altered 21st CCLC, adding additional funding, delegating the grant process to states, and changing the focus of the program from providing social services to all members of a community—as was originally intended— to providing academic support, particularly in reading and math, to students.