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Americans value afterschool programs. Here’s why Congress should too.

By Meghan Lustig Sept. 5, 2017

The 2017 Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools shows near-unanimous support (92%) for afterschool programs. What’s more, most Americans (77%) support the use of public funding to make sure all kids have access to these opportunities.

This news comes as lawmakers in DC are considering budget cuts to 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), the only source of federal funding dedicated to helping resource-strapped schools provide afterschool and summer learning opportunities.

In March, a White House official made headlines when he justified budget cuts by mistakenly claiming that afterschool programs show no demonstrable evidence that they are helping kids do better in school. In fact, evaluations of 21st CCLC show that students who attend after-school programs attend school more often, have lower rates of suspension, are more likely to be promoted, get better grades, reduce dropout rates, and improve in reading and math achievement.

But it seems the American public understands something about their communities that politicians considering cuts to 21st CCLC are overlooking – and the positive data is just the tip of the iceberg.

CIS of Douglas County works with the Douglas County School System to operate seven 21st CCLC programs that serve 1,600 students in 18 schools. Each of these programs was developed locally to meets the specific needs of parents, teachers and students in the community. They provide opportunities like academic tutoring, homework assistance, cultural/fine arts education, technological education, and field trips. They also cover life skills, academic motivation, college and career prospects, drug awareness, conflict resolution, and violence/gang prevention.

Evaluations of these programs show positive results overall. For example, a recent evaluation of Douglas County's STAR program showed that 85% of participating elementary students either improved their grades or maintained an A, B or C average in reading, while 87% did the same in math.

But these positive data points are only a small part of the far-reaching benefits of programs funded by 21st CCLC in communities like Douglas County.

For example, these programs provide free transportation to all students – a lifeline for working parents in this community. “Since the majority of Douglas County parents commute from Atlanta, they often get home around 6 PM or later,” explains Mitzi Teal, Executive Director of CIS of Douglas County.

The programs also help parents meet the competing demands of working full time and raising their children. Parents of children in the STAR program overwhelmingly agreed that the program helps them ensure homework is completed and turned in on time. This allows them to focus on much-needed family time once everyone is finally at home.

Perhaps even more important is the social emotional support the program provides for students.

Teal has observed how support from the program motivates her students, improves their self-esteem and teaches them resilience that improves their engagement in the classroom – all important developmental benefits that are not necessarily capture in the evaluation data.

This social emotional support is critical for kids like Kevin*, who has always struggled academically and simply needed some extra encouragement.

When he started the program in third grade, Kevin was 2-3 years behind. At this pivotal age when reading becomes a critical requirement for learning, he was becoming discouraged as he fell further and further behind his peers.

“Despite a positive home environment and school day support, Kevin still needed the additional support because every child just learns at a different pace,” said Teal.

Because of the STAR program, Kevin was connected to that additional support that he needed, and his grades and test scores have since improved. But most importantly, Kevin’s attitude towards school has changed fundamentally.

“I can see it on his face that he is proud of himself,” Teal said.

Without 21st CCLC funding, it would certainly be a challenge to continue this critical community support with the same rigor and attention to the needs of parents, teachers and students. For kids like Kevin, that might mean falling behind in school again. And for working parents who rely on a safe place for their kids to go after school, that could mean a difficult financial choice.

Perhaps that’s why Americans overwhelmingly favor these programs.

Fortunately, there is still time to save this grant. Your voice can make the difference. Members want to hear from their constituents now about the value this delivers to communities nationwide.

Will you click here to contact your representatives today and urge them to stand up for the students and parents who rely on after-school programming?

*Name changed.