Key directions in state policy that can help support the growth of state funding for afterschool include an interest in investing more resources into education, concern about children’s health and safety and increased interest in programs for older youth.
Education as an investment. Governors and legislators are acknowledging a direct link between access to education and economic health, and they now see the economic playing field as global in scope. Drawing upon concepts from the book The World is Flat and in some cases even citing that book in their speeches, governors are calling higher educational achievement a key component of strategies for economic growth. The specific proposals vary, but there are desires to see a higher percentage of students finish high school and to ensure that more students enter college. Specific knowledge areas such as science, technology, engineering and math are also identified as key components of helping states be more competitive in the global economy. Afterschool has been shown to help keep kids in school. It can provide them with additional learning time to pick up knowledge and skills in areas such as science, computers, math and design. Program leaders should compile the data and stories from their own programs to make the connection between afterschool and educational success. They should then take that information to their statehouses and point out why expansion of afterschool should be part of a state’s strategy for economic growth.
Programs for older youth. High school reform and college-readiness/workforce development are the driving forces behind many state initiatives aimed at older youth. These reforms seek to connect K-12 to work and later learning, including two-year and four-year colleges, and creating seamless transitions for students. Policymakers and private funders (i.e. Gates) are looking beyond the traditional school-day structure, leaving a possible opening for afterschool programs and their more-flexible schedules. In fact, practices that are found to be effective within high school reform—smaller and more personalized learning environments, relationships with caring adults, providing extra learning time and internships—are already taking place in afterschool programs.
On the workforce development side, career and technical education (CTE), once known as vocational education, is making a comeback. Most states have a CTE office within their education department, and governors and legislators are putting money for this in their budgets. CTE programs are forming community partnerships, especially with businesses and higher education, to recruit volunteers and establish internship programs. Like high school reform, they are also looking beyond school structures and making use of out-of-school time for skills development and career exploration.
Health and wellness. Rising health care and health insurance costs is a concern in many states. The rise in health costs threatens the new fiscal health of the states and is a drain on family and business budgets. One strategy being proposed to reduce health costs is investing more in wellness and prevention, especially around the growing concern about the lack of physical activity and rise in obesity in youth. The issue of childhood obesity is being raised by a wide variety of national organizations that reach out to governors and legislators. Afterschool advocates should step forward and offer to do their part to help their state reverse the tide of inactivity and childhood obesity. (View more information on afterschool and obesity prevention.)
Keeping kids safe. Many state leaders are worried about threats to our youth and families, including drug use and addiction, highway safety, violence and the lure of gangs. Afterschool has been shown to be a cost-effective way to keep kids safe and on the path to productive adulthood. Voters support afterschool because it can keep our children safe and supervised. Combining this concern about safety with elected officials’ interest in educational success and youth wellness provides afterschool with a potent message in a time of increasing state revenues.
Governors are mentioning afterschool and extended learning needs in their State of the State adresses and other policy speeches. Additional governors have hosted summits on afterschool and extended learning opportunities, and the issue is rising in other state policy arenas. More and more legislatures are appropriating state dollars for afterschool programs. Afterschool advocates should take advantage of growing state revenues and increasing levels of interest to ask for more resources to build quality programs. The time has never been better to champion afterschool for all in our statehouses.
(To conduct your own review of policy trends in your state go to Stateline.org. There you will find links to the text of your governor’s State of the State speech. Visit your governor’s website to find additional remarks and press releases on current issues. Reading the news columnists who cover your state government is also a good source for insights into the latest government and political trends in your state.)