Given how many program areas afterschool cuts across, commissions, task forces and advisory committees can be helpful in helping think through how to weave together varied program goals and funding streams. These entities also allow for a variety of perspectives to be brought together and can also provide opportunities for public input, and they can help build public and opinion-leader awareness of afterschool options for a state or local government.
Typically, commissions and task forces are short-term projects established with a defined deadline to issue a report or a study. Public and philanthropic dollars may support some of the costs of research, public hearings and administrative support for the effort. Advisory committees, on the other hand, provide ongoing support and guidance for an issue and are asked to weigh in on various topics as they crop up.
Regardless of a group’s purpose and duration, they are often effective in bringing attention and public input to an issue. However, it’s important to remember that such groups are only the beginning of change. It’s essential that advocates work to turn those reports and studies and guidelines into actions and funds that make improvement and expansion of afterschool a reality.
Below are some other pros and cons of this approach, along with some examples from various states.
- The issue receives a focus it probably does not receive in any one department that already funds afterschool.
- The issue can get the broad perspective within state government that it requires.
- Key department specialists and outside experts or constituency perspectives can be brought together to examine and develop policy proposals for consideration by policymakers.
- Having staff support from the executive branch or legislative branch brings more professional quality to the resulting report and recommendations.
- If commission members are well-respected, well-known leaders in the community with political importance, their participation could lift the issue of afterschool to a new level of visibility and priority.
- The existence of a report does not mean that its recommendations will be adopted by the sponsoring policymakers, and commission members may not agree with advocates on which policies are the most important.
- It may take more effort from advocates. Advocates will need to put the task force or committee on their advocacy agenda to try and educate its members on the needs of children, families and afterschool providers. This work, however, will have to be in addition to the outreach advocates already do to the primary policymakers who hold decision-making authority (state legislators, administration officials, etc.).
- A commission may delay action on the topic of afterschool while it does its work. (However, it can also be a vehicle to develop consensus among the stakeholders and minimize disagreements in the future, thus streamlining implementation.)
Massachusetts: Special Commission on After School and Out of School Time
This commission, co chaired by Rep. Marie St. Fleur and Senator Tom McGee, included several state agencies and knowledgeable people connected to afterschool and out-of-school time. The legislature wanted the commission to help define what is needed to support the health development of children and youth in and out of school. The commission held 10 public hearings, heard from more than 500 individuals, and conducted work groups on key topics that would support a quality afterschool and out-of-school-time system for Massachusetts. It produced a comprehensive report with documentation and issue briefs and was the blueprint for a legislative approach and additional funding for afterschool programs for Massachusetts. For the full report on their process and their findings, go to the commission’s website.
Arkansas: Governor’s Task Force on Best Practices for After-School and Summer Programs
In 2007, Governor Mike Beebe of Arkansas issued an executive order to establish a task force of state government leaders and community leaders to look for policy recommendations to support afterschool and summer programs.
Governor Beebe appointed 10 people to look into questions of access, need and quality. The charge to the task force is to link student success in education and the state’s role in providing adequate support for all children. The Clinton School for Public Service will support the research portion of the task force work by assigning graduate students to this effort. There are committees at work on various aspects of their “charge” from the governor. Advocates are supporting this effort and informing the stakeholders for afterschool and summer programs about the governor’s task force’s mission. There will be a Governor’s Summit on Extra Learning Opportunities (afterschool) in the Fall of 2008.
Connecticut: Advisory Committee to the General Assembly
Connecticut’s General Assembly established the Connecticut After School Advisory Council in 2003. The legislation lays out a broad set of tasks that would be considered similar to the tasks expected of the statewide afterschool network. The assembly expects this advisory committee to report to them annually and to consider and make recommendations on important aspects affecting afterschool programs. The committee brings the state agencies that fund or are stakeholders of afterschool programs together with the executive branch agencies to work across their own limited program goals to see how they can collaborate. The inclusion of other key individuals from a broad spectrum of constituencies not only adds credibility, but also allows for diverse viewpoints to inform and strengthen the recommendations offered. Because the legislature provided a statutory basis for this advisory committee, it has clear authority to consider issues and report on policy recommendations for legislative action. View the full text of the legislation, Public Act #03-206.
California: Advisory Committee on Before and After School Programs
To establish a more formal mechanism for providers in the field to be heard by policymakers in the Department of Education and other state agencies, the California Legislature established the Advisory Committee on Before and After School Programs.The legislation requires the appointment of afterschool providers who represent various types of programs, including rural and urban programs, middle and high schools, and large and small schools. Members were appointed in 2006. The committee has provided the California Department of Education with its views on the expansion of afterschool in California and particularly on the types of technical assistance that programs need to succeed.
Subcommittees have been created to tackle particular topics such as evaluation and workforce development. The committee and its subcommittees have also invited speakers to provide updates on developments in the field beyond the work of the California Department of Education, and its “public comment” period provides a chance for individuals to raise concerns in a public setting that had not existed before. A small cadre of interested afterschool leaders attends the meetings to gain the latest perspectives on California afterschool policies and directions. An unexpected development has been that the committee members and the meeting observers are able to network informally before and after the meetings, to share news and perspectives on topics beyond the formal meeting agenda.
Iowa: Non-Government Committee
The Iowa Afterschool Alliance became its own task force as it sought to create the Iowa Blueprint for Afterschool, a tool for policy makers to use in partnership with local stakeholders to identify the core elements of effective delivery of quality afterschool programs in Iowa. Input came from a variety of IAA-driven opportunities, including Lights On events, community Blueprint Forums and advocacy trainings. The IAA’s steering committee then assembled the blueprint, which outlines five strategies for ensuring high-quality, affordable afterschool in Iowa. Read the full report.