Since 2002, a federal initiative has funded after-school and summer programs that benefit many low-income kids.
This year, those 21st Century Community Learning Centers could be dismantled.
A draft of a bill proposed in the U.S. Senate — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — would kill the program and shift the funding. Money would instead go to local agencies for a wider variety of education purposes.
After-school advocates are worried.
“We believe this would be a mistake,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Washington-based Afterschool Alliance. She said fewer families would have access to after-school, before-school and summer programs.
“Working parents are just now moving beyond the recession … and would be forced to struggle to find safe, supervised and educational activities for their children,” she said in a statement.
Erik Peterson, vice president of policy at the Afterschool Alliance, said after-school programs would be forced to compete for funding with in-school programs for kids.
“It would be a substantial shift,” he said.
Currently 1.6 million children are served through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative, which is the only federal funding earmarked exclusively for after-school and summer learning, according to the alliance.
The draft bill is proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., whose office had not yet responded to Youth Today’s request for comment.
Currently, the program supports 11,040 school- and community-based centers, according to the alliance. State education agencies get funding based on their share of Title I money for low-income students at high-poverty, low-performing schools.
One-fourth of the children served are African-American and one-third are Hispanic/Latino, according to the Afterschool Alliance.
Alexander, chairman of the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, is overseeing a bill to make changes to the No Child Left Behind Act. Within that 400-page document is the language changing 21st Century Community Learning Centers into a new entity called the Safe and Healthy Students block grants.
Among the programs currently funded through 21st Century Community Learning Centers is one in Chicago that provides after-school and some early childhood education for 2,500 children.
Chicago Youth Centers has eight sites and serves kids ages 3 to 18, said Kate Tillotson, senior director of development and communications.
“We want to prepare children to be successful in life. It’s about all the lifelong skills they need to succeed,” she said.
Many kids served by Chicago Youth Centers come from communities that are poor and have a high level of violence, Tillotson said.
“21st Century Community Learning Center programs give them a path up and out of that,” she said.