Several newly introduced bills would support afterschool, summer learning

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Several newly introduced bills would support afterschool, summer learning

While August is usually a slow month in the nation’s capital and Congress is usually in recess, this year there has been a great deal of activity during the doldrums of summer. In late July Congress passed and the president signed into law a reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.  And in mid-August the full Senate is expected to debate and pass a Labor, Health and Human Services, Education (LHHS) spending bill for the first time since 2007. Additionally, two new bills have recently been introduced that would support the work of local afterschool and summer learning providers.

Summer Learning and Meals Act of 2018

On July 31, Sens. Wyden (D-Oregon), Merkley (D-Oregon), and Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the Summer Learning and Meals Act of 2018 (S. 3307.) The new legislation aims to help close the summer learning gap by keeping school libraries open at schools that already serve free summer meals. The legislation is based on Oregon’s Summer Learning Partnership, a successful state-based pilot program coordinated in part by OregonASK.

The bills authors’ see the legislation as helping address both the opportunity gap and summer learning loss. While more affluent children often participate in extracurricular activities during the summer, too many low-income children lose access to learning opportunities when school is closed. According to one Johns Hopkins study, by ninth grade, accumulated summer reading losses accounted for two-thirds of the reading achievement gap between low-income children and middle-income children. Research has also shown that high-quality summer learning programs can help students maintain or even increase their academic skills over the summer months, especially in reading.

In 2012, Oregon’s Summer Learning Partnership created a grant program to allow schools to keep their libraries open at existing summer meal sites to benefit the students most at-risk. Based on Oregon’s successful program, the Summer Learning and Meals Act of 2018 would create a new federal grant program that provides grants to state libraries to allow schools with summer lunch programs to keep their libraries open for student use during the summer months. Specifically the new grant program established by the Summer Learning and Meals Act would:

  • Be run by the federal Department of Education;
  • Provide grants to state libraries to fund summer reading programs at schools that 1) have a summer lunch program and 2) where at least 50 percent of students read below grade level or are at risk of reading below grade levels;
  • Enable state library programs to award sub-grants based on the proposed number of school lunch sites and the number of students that will be served under the summer early reading program;
  • Require agencies receiving grants to submit yearly reports regarding the progress made in achieving the purposes of the grant or sub-grant to the Secretary;
  • Be authorized at $5 million in funding for each of the fiscal years 2019 through 2023.

Restructuring Underutilized Resources for Advancing Learning (RURAL) Act

On the House side, Rep. Loebsack (D-Iowa) re-introduced the Restructuring Underutilized Resources for Advancing Learning Act or the RURAL Act (HR 6526) on July 25. In addition to establishing an Office of Rural Education at the federal Department of Education and other functions, the legislation would “enhance afterschool programs in rural areas by helping communities establish afterschool programs and improve existing programs by overcoming barriers to service.”

Among the findings cited as justification for the bill are the following:

  • Investing in afterschool programs helps children in rural communities break out of the cycle of poverty and creates opportunities for at-risk youth.
  • In areas in which resources are limited, afterschool programs are often the only source of supplemental enrichment in literacy, nutrition education, technology, and preparation for college and entrance exams.
  • Children attending rural schools have the lowest median per-student funding for afterschool programs under the 21st Century Community Learning Center Program (21st CCLC) under part B of Title IV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as compared to children attending urban and suburban schools.

The legislation seeks to support rural afterschool programs through amending the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act by establishing a new grant program run by the Department of Education, authorized at $25 million for the first year and $50 million for the second year, that would provide three-year grants to support new or existing afterschool or expanded learning time programs. Eligible entities for the new grant would be local educational agencies, educational service agencies, community-based organizations, public or private entities, or a consortium of two or more such agencies, organizations, or entities.

The grants would be at least $25,000 per year for three years and could be renewed. Grants could be used for transportation, professional development, training, recruitment and retention of staff, staff compensation for additional hours worked, increasing access to technology, and planning. Programming and services to be provided to children and youth could include academic enrichment and youth development activities; drug and violence prevention programs; counseling programs; art, music, physical fitness, and recreational programs; technology education programs; character education programs; and service-learning programs.

For more information on these bills and other afterschool and summer learning related legislation, see the Afterschool Alliance federal legislation tracker here.

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