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21st Century Community Learning Centers: Effective support for local afterschool programs

For more than 15 years, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative has provided resources for local afterschool programs, which in turn support student success, keep children safe and are a lifeline for working parents.  Not surprisingly, parents report that they are pleased with their children’s afterschool programs: close to 9 in 10 parents with a child in an afterschool program say they are satisfied with the program overall.  Further, an overwhelming body of research shows that afterschool programs help increase school day attendance, improve grades, narrow the achievement gap and contribute to social and emotional well-being.  In particular, afterschool programs supported by the 21st CCLC initiative are helping raise student achievement, as shown by more and more studies published each year.  

I was surprised, therefore, to read that one researcher from a prominent think tank is harkening back to a controversial 21st CCLC study he led, released more than a decade ago to a critical response, as a reason to question federal support for the initiative.  He also points to a meta-analysis of existing research on afterschool programs released earlier this month, even though the authors state that their results “…cannot be generalized to draw conclusions about the effect of after-school programs beyond the outcomes examined in this study.”  Many of the outcomes examined in the meta-analysis were not even stated goals of the programs reviewed. 

It is a proven fact that afterschool programs work incredibly well.  New research from Dr. Deborah Vandell, previewed at the Society for Research in Child Development last week, shows that afterschool programs are on par with early childhood programs in supporting reading comprehension and math achievement.  And a number of recent state-level evaluations of 21st CCLC make a convincing case that this federal initiative is succeeding in positively impacting students and families:  

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House and Senate budget resolutions propose significant spending cuts

Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees unveiled their ideas for FY 2016 federal spending.  Both chambers plan to pass budget resolutions to serve as blueprints for the upcoming Appropriations process.

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-GA) released his FY 2016 budget resolution last Tuesday morning.  The plan would balance the federal government’s budget in eight years by cutting domestic spending.  It cuts $5.5 trillion from the budget over ten years.  For nondefense discretionary (NDD) spending—which includes education, juvenile justice, and Health and Human Services funds that support afterschool programs—the budget maintains the FY 2016 sequester.  Locking in sequester cuts means spending increases will be unlikely for such programs in the coming year.  Starting in FY 2017, the budget cuts NDD spending each year below the sequester caps.

Specific program spending levels are not detailed in the budget proposal. With regard to K-12 education, the budget documents state the following:

“Our budget places a strong emphasis on returning the power to make education policy decisions to state and local governments, to families, and to students, rather than allowing choices to be made by bureaucrats in Washington. It eliminates unsuccessful and duplicative K-12 programs in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness. It promotes innovation and choices that provide for flexibility and innovative teaching methods.”

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New afterschool report released at Congressional staff briefing

New data, an update on the out-of-school time Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards, compelling afterschool program profiles and a nutritious lunch were all highlighted in a briefing for Congressional staff on March 10 on Capitol Hill. The event served as the official release of the new America After 3PM report on afterschool programs’ efforts to keep students healthy and active, entitled "Kids on the Move: Afterschool Programs Promoting Healthy Eating and Physical Activity."

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) kicked off the briefing with a passionate reminder about why afterschool programs are so critical to the success of young people, providing a brief history of how the federal government has helped build capacity for local afterschool programs and has spawned public private partnerships that have supported millions of young people over the past 20 years.

Moderated by Afterschool Alliance Board Treasurer Barry Ford, the panel provided an in-depth look at the wellness activities occurring in afterschool programs.

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Guest blog: Former Secretary of Education emphasizes importance of afterschool in education reform

Cathy Stevens is the Program Director for the White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship at the Richard W. Riley Institute at Furman University.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education and South Carolina Governor Dick Riley told an audience of decision-makers charged with undoing decades of educational inequities in South Carolina that afterschool and expanded learning are a key part of the comprehensive, “collective impact,” education reform needed for rural and poor school districts.

In late 2014, after a 21-year lawsuit, Abbeville v. State, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the state is failing to provide its students with an minimally adequate education as required by the state’s constitution. To say this was a long time coming is putting it mildly. In response to this lawsuit, a new 17-member legislative task force began meeting in February to develop plans for revamping the school system, especially for the 33 largely poor and rural plaintiff school districts. Former U.S. Secretary of Education and South Carolina native, Richard W. Riley, opened the task force’s first meeting on February 23rd with commentary that emphasized the value of afterschool and expanded learning as part of the broader legislative response.

“Engaging, hands-on academic enrichment opportunities are needed in each elementary and middle school to help struggling students. Such opportunities also should leverage the inspiration of master teachers and the community spirit of mentors and tutors from youth, arts, culture, faith-based, science, community and business organizations,” he emphasized.

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Bipartisan Summer Meals Act introduced in Senate to help close hunger gap

Child nutrition program reauthorization efforts have taken a strong step forward with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introducing the bipartisan  Summer Meals Act of 2015 (S. 613). The legislation would significantly improve the reach of the Summer Nutrition Programs so more children can access healthy meals in supportive summer learning and afterschool programs. The bill would also simplify the administration of the program for sponsors.

The bill proposes the following improvements:

  • Improve the area eligibility test to allow community-based organizations to participate if 40 percent of the children in the area are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Currently, a summer meal site must meet a 50 percent threshold which keeps many communities from participating. This change would make summer meals eligibility consistent with 21st Century Community Learning Center initiative guidelines. Maps have been developed for each state to show how many more areas would be served under this proposed change.
  • Allow local government agencies and private nonprofit organizations to feed children year-round—afterschool and in the summer—through a single Summer Food Service Program process. This would remove duplicative paperwork and confusing administrative rules that discourage participation.
  • Provide funding for transportation grants to fund innovative approaches and mobile meal trucks. Transportation is one of the biggest barriers to participation, especially in rural areas.
  • Allow all sites to serve a third meal. Many summer meal sites provide child care to working parents and run all day and for extended hours, but are only able to serve a maximum of two meals with federal funds.

The Summer Nutrition Programs, which include the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program over the summer period, provide free meals at participating summer sites at schools, parks, other public agencies, and nonprofits for children under 18. They provide children the nutritious meals they need to keep hunger at bay and remain healthy throughout the summer. They also support summer learning programs and help draw children into educational, enrichment, and recreational activities that keep them learning, engaged, active, and safe during school vacation.

A companion bill is expected to be re-introduced shortly in the House. The Afterschool Alliance has joined dozens of other groups in support of the legislation. 

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Upcoming webinar: How changes to CCDBG will impact school-age care

Please join the Office of Child Care (OCC) at the Department of Health and Human Services for a webinar-based discussion of school-age afterschool and summer care issues, including the impact of the newly reauthorized Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) Act.

Following a brief presentation by OCC on various pieces of the new law, there will be an opportunity to ask questions.  In advance of the webinar you can learn more here about the new Child Care Development Block Grant Act and potential changes.

All school-age care providers are welcome to join the free webinar, as are child care advocates and state-level groups.  You can register here for this webinar, which is scheduled for March 3, 2015, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. eastern time.

After registering you will receive a confirmation e-mail containing information about joining the webinar.

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ESEA reauthorization debate heads to floor of House of Representatives

UPDATE: House Republicans opted not to hold a vote on HR 5 the ESEA reauthorization bill today as had been planned and instead adjourned for the weekend. It is unclear if the House will attempt to vote on the ESEA bill next week or if a longer postponement will take place. Media reports suggest the bill did not have the votes to pass.

The debate on the floor of the House of Representatives began this morning on the House Republican Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill. A final vote is expected to take place tomorrow morning. The last time the bill was reauthorized was 2002, and Congress has been trying to reauthorize the current statute since 2007.  According to Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who is managing the debate on the House floor for the Majority, HR 5, the Student Success Act, reduces the Federal footprint in education; empowers parents; supports effective teachers; and restores local control.  The White House has issued a veto threat on the partisan bill.

HR 5 does not reauthorize the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative, which could lead to more than 1.7 million students losing access to desperately needed afterschool, before-school and summer learning programs that keep students safe, inspire learning and provide a lifeline for our hard working families.  While the bill does create the Local Academic Flexible Grant that would fund “supplemental student support activities such as before, after, or summer school activities, tutoring, and expanded learning time,”  it also allows the same funds to support school day activities, such as academic subject specific programs, adjunct teacher programs, extended learning time programs, dual enrollment programs and parent engagement.  At a time when local and state funding is declining, it is likely that this grant would predominantly be used to fund activities during the school day.  

While more than 100 amendments to the bill were filed this past Monday, including five supporting afterschool programs, the House Rules Committee only made 44 “in order” as they were ruled germane to the bill and debated on the House floor.  One of these amendments  focused on afterschool and was offered by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA). Also, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Ranking Member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, will offer the last amendment – most likely tomorrow morning - which is the Democratic substitute bill, though it will fail along partisan lines.

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Farm to School Act of 2015 introduced in Congress, would include afterschool programs

The bipartisan Farm to School Act of 2015 was introduced in Congress yesterday by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH).  The Farm to School Act of 2015 builds on the success of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 by proposing an increase in funding from $5 million to $15 million for the USDA Farm to School Grant Program.  The bill would also ensure that the grant program fully includes afterschool programs and summer learning programs as well as preschools and tribal schools while improving program participation from beginning, veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. 

The legislation has wide support from a variety of sectors for several reasons:

  • Farm to school is a proven method for improving the health of our nation's children.  Today, more than 23 million students are making healthier food choices at school, afterschool, and at home thanks to farm to school activities like school gardens, cooking classes and incorporating local foods in school meals. 
  • Demand for the successful USDA Farm to School Grant Program far exceeds supply.  In its first three years, the program received more than 1,000 applications but only had enough funding to award 221 grants.  In other words, just one in five projects was funded.

A complete summary of the bill and ways to take action in support of the bill can be found here. The Afterschool Alliance supports the bipartisan legislation and will be tracking the bill throughout the child nutrition reauthorization process this year. 

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