Despite the recent congressional resolution to fund critical educational programs through September 2017, 21st Century Community Learning Centers are still at risk. Recently, President Donald Trump unveiled his proposed budget, calling on Congress to cease funding to 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), a cut that will impact youth and families in many Idaho communities. Although 21st CCLCs and other critical education programs have been given a reprieve until the fall, Congress is still weighing pending budget cuts.
Idaho currently has more than 90 after-school program sites supported with 21st CCLC funding. These funds establish community learning centers that offer out-of-school academic, artistic and cultural enrichment opportunities for children and families, particularly in high-poverty and/or low-performing school districts. Many of these programs are offered directly within our schools. Communities benefiting from these programs may not be aware that critical after-school programs may not exist when their children return to school this fall.
Out-of-school programs, including 21st CCLCs, can be powerful. Research shows that consistent access to high-quality out-of-school programing can close the achievement gap, improve academic performance, increase high school graduation rates, improve healthy activity, and advance social and emotional adjustment. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) verified that these benefits are associated with youth who attend 21st CCLCs for at least 60 days or more.
By the time a child reaches the age of 18, they will have spent nearly 80 percent of their waking hours outside of the classroom. What we offer youth in our communities outside of the school day is just as valuable to their future as what we offer in the classroom. Further, when youth are left without supervision and structure, idle time can turn to less desirable activities. Studies also show out-of-school programs decrease substance use, teen pregnancy and juvenile crimes. A cut to 21st CCLCs may cause an increase in these activities.
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Loss of funding for these centers would also devastate working families and diminish an infrastructure in Idaho that relies on after-school programming, especially in our rural communities. Over 38 percent of 21st CCLCs nationwide serve rural communities, but in Idaho that’s even higher, sitting at 83 percent. After-school programming offered through CCLCs is essential in rural communities, as many families often work away from their hometown and child-care centers can be scarce in these small communities.
As essential as these programs are, communities should never take federal programs for granted. This is a wake-up call. Parents, administrators, educators and youth connected to 21st CCLCs need to share the impact this program has on their lives. Consider reaching out to local and social media outlets or policymakers, especially members of Congress who are weighing this important decision. Cutting 21st CCLC programs will do little to the federal budget, it is less than .001 percent, but what it can offer youth and communities is priceless. To learn how to support 21st CCLCs or where they are located, visit the Idaho AfterSchool Network webpage, idahoafterschool.org.
Marie Hattaway is program director for Idaho AfterSchool Network, a program of Jannus Inc.