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Hearings and letters: Support broadens on Capitol Hill for 21st Century Community Learning Centers

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Hearings and letters: Support broadens on Capitol Hill for 21st Century Community Learning Centers

For friends of afterschool, the last week of March has been a busy one in Washington, D.C., with both the House and the Senate holding education appropriations hearings and letters of support for 21st Century Community Learning Center afterschool and summer learning programs submitted to appropriators.

On Tuesday, March 26, while afterschool advocates nationwide were celebrating #3to6Day on social media, promoting many amazing afterschool success stories, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies held a hearing on the Department of Education’s Budget Request for FY2020. The hearing comes on the heels of the release of the president’s FY2020 budget proposal that seeks to cut education funding by more than 10 percent and eliminates 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Secretary of Education DeVos was the only witness for the hearing and received a less than warm welcome from Democrats, who took issue with a budget proposal that includes drastic cuts to funding for the Department of Education when additional investments are needed. Republicans noted some support for the proposal, but also raised concerns about cuts to the TRIO program and asked for explanations related to funding for mental health programs and how a would-be Pell grant expansion would work.

With regard to support for afterschool and summer learning programs, in their opening statements both Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and full Appropriations Committee Chair Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) cited their displeasure with the proposed elimination of the 21s t Century Community Learning Centers initiative. Chair Lowey’s first question for the Secretary was about the proposed Community Learning Centers elimination, citing the Department of Education’s own most recent report on the program that found that half of students in Community Learning Centers-funded afterschool programs improved math and reading grades, more than two-thirds (68 percent) improved homework completion and class participation, and three out of five improved classroom behavior. Mrs. Lowey also talked about the success of Community Learning Centers programs in her district in New York that are helping young people develop the skills they need to succeed in school and later in life.

In defense of the proposed cuts, Secretary DeVos said the federal dollars are not getting to the best programs and cited 2017 data about student gains in reading and math that were inconsistent with other data. She then emphasized that afterschool programs are effective in general and that the proposed elimination is not a dismissal of afterschool, but a reprioritization of funding for other programs. She suggested afterschool could be funded at the state and local level or through philanthropy. While we agree that there is a role for state, local, parental, and philanthropic investments, the federal investment is absolutely critical to help ensure that children in low-income communities that lack other resources still have access to quality afterschool and summer programs that help them avoid risky behaviors, inspire learning and help working families.

On Thursday, Secretary DeVos testified at a much shorter hearing of the Senate Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations Subcommittee, once again echoing many of the same themes about the president’s budget proposal. Both Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) spoke of their support for afterschool funding and questioned the proposed elimination of Community Learning Centers. Sen. Baldwin pointed to a successful afterschool program in Milton, Wis., supported in part by Title IV Part A grant funding that is helping students learn to code and develop new technology skills that will prepare them for the workforce of tomorrow.

In addition to the appropriations hearings in the House and Senate, this week Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) sent a bipartisan Dear Colleague letter signed by 106 members of Congress to House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee leaders Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) sending a clear message “…to support funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Program.” The letter was applauded by afterschool advocates and the Afterschool Alliance.

Within the Dear Colleague letter to appropriators in the House of Representatives, the 106 signing representatives called for an increase to $1.32 billion for Community Learning Centers in the upcoming FY2020 spending bill to better meet the afterschool and summer needs of communities, families, and children. The letter cited recent research and evaluations showing that afterschool students demonstrated improved behavior and performed better academically than students who did not participate in afterschool.

Also this week a broad spectrum of local, state and national organizations representing all 50 states sent their own letter of support for increasing 21st Century Community Learning Centers to the House LHHS Appropriations Subcommittee Chair and Ranking Member. The letters come on the heels of more than 15,000 calls and emails sent to Congress thus far in March, all in support of federal afterschool and summer learning funds.

The FY2020 appropriations process is just getting started and still has a long road ahead, with time left for others to show their support for afterschool and summer learning. In the face of a proposed elimination of 21st Century Community Learning Centers by the White House in the FY2020 budget proposal, the outpouring of support this week, and in the coming weeks and month, is encouraging to the afterschool field.

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