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After-school Advocates Lobby Legislators to Save 21st Century Program

As federal funding for after-school programs continues to swing in the breeze, after-school advocates are seeking to make their presence felt on Capitol Hill.

Many are in Washington for the National AfterSchool Association Convention Sunday through Wednesday and are making a point of meeting with their members of Congress.

They’re urging continued funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Education bills in both the House and Senate propose to kill this grant program, which supports after-school centers across the nation.

“What we really want to do is talk about the impact of after-school programs,” said Amber May, programs director of the nearly 50-year-old after-school program Operation Shoestring in Jackson, Miss.

She and a six-person delegation from the state hope to meet with both their senators, Republicans Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, as well as Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson from the 2nd District.

Operation Shoestring serves 325 students from pre-K through high school. Its high school program is funded through a 21st Century grant, May said. She plans to tell her legislators that the recent graduation rate of students in Operation Shoestring’s high school program was 100 percent. That compares to a 65 percent graduation rate in Lanier High School, which they attend.

The point she wants to make is that the after-school program — staffed by teachers and partnering with community organizations — boosts students’ academic success.

Various members of  the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee have expressed support for the 21st Century program, according to Erik Peterson, vice president of policy for the Afterschool Alliance.

Negotiations continue in the committee over draft legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, sponsored by committee chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is the ranking member of the committee. Murray has been a supporter of after-school legislation in the past, co-sponsoring the 2013 Afterschool for America’s Children’s Act, which sought to expand access to programs.

The committee may take up the bill next week or could postpone it until later.

A House bill, HR 5, the Student Success Act, which would kill the 21st Century funding, came to the House floor at the end of February but was pulled back. It apparently did not have the votes to pass, since it had no Democratic support and was opposed by some Republicans. However, it could return to the floor.

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