Funding for After-School Programs at Risk in Congress, Groups Say

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Even as Congress works on a replacement to No Child Left Behind, millions of dollars for after-school and other youth programs appear at risk, worrying such groups as the Afterschool Alliance and the Forum for Youth Investment.

One such program is 21st Century Community Learning Centers, the after-school program serving 1.6 million low-income kids.

Wednesday the House of Representatives passed its No Child version, the Student Success Act, which does not reauthorize the program.

Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, said in a statement that the Student Success Act “would roll back nearly 20 years of bipartisan support for, and investment in, the after-school, before-school and summer learning programs.”

"It would be foolish to undermine the funding behind the systems that have been built to improve program quality, just as they are on the cusp of achieving their full potential," said Charles Smith, executive director of the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, a division of the Forum. "Its targeted, steady funding, combined with accountability, has been a potent combination — it has pushed superintendents, mayors, funders and providers to acknowledge the need for high-quality after-school services, and to implement quality improvement systems to meet that need."

President Obama has said he would veto the House bill.

Afterschool advocates are pinning their hopes on the Senate version of the bill.

To preserve the 21st Century program, “it’s crucial that the Senate pass the Every Child Achieves Act,” said Erik Peterson,  vice president for policy at the Afterschool Alliance.

The act is currently being debated in the Senate to replace No Child Left Behind. It includes language reauthorizing the 21st Century program.

But even if the House and Senate reach a compromise to preserve the 21st Century program, the action would mean little if funding isn’t appropriated.

A budget showdown is looming in Congress at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30. Committees in both the House and Senate are preparing by approving appropriations bills.

In a twist, the House appropriations bill would fund the 21st Century program at current levels.

The Senate would trim $117 million from the program. That would remove 117,000 children from slots in the program, according to the Afterschool Alliance.

The Senate appropriations bill would cut other programs that benefit youth too, such as VISTA, School Improvement Grants, AmeriCorps and Promise Neighborhoods, according to the Afterschool Alliance.

Budget wrangling — and even a government shutdown — is not new, but Republican control of the Senate has changed the landscape for funding.

“In the past, there was more of a need to come up with a compromise,” Peterson said. “It’s kind of an impasse on the appropriations process this year.”

And federal spending for children and youth has been in a decline. A recent report by First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy group, shows a drop of 9.4 percent since 2011.

“That’s been a trend for some time,” Peterson said.