America needs afterschool

Students attempt to squeeze toothpaste back into a tube from a plastic baggie.
Students in the YouthQuest afterschool program at Southwestern Classical Academy in Flint, Michigan, try to get toothpaste back into its tube. Nationwide, 1.7 million young people attend afterschool programs that receive funding through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. Photo: Rick Smith

The following opinion piece by Ridgway White, president of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, was published by The Hill on February 16, 2018.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program is one the Trump administration should love: it achieves results, is built on public-private partnerships, and helps kids and families succeed.

Far too many of our kids still lack opportunities to learn new skills, bolster their academics and discover jobs they’re excited to pursue. The 21st CCLC program is changing that by providing such opportunities to 1.7 million young people across America every year. Created two decades ago to seed local afterschool and summer learning initiatives, the 21st CCLC program has expanded under Republican and Democratic administrations to raise student achievement and brighten futures.

By proposing to eliminate its funding, President Trump is stripping resources from a successful initiative rooted in communities, dismissing decades of evidence proving that consistent participation by students in quality afterschool programs leads to improved school attendance, better grades and higher graduation rates, and turning his back on moms and dads for whom afterschool is often a lifeline to continued employment.

Many fiscally minded policymakers at the federal, state and local levels have protected the 21st CCLC program because of its return on investment. Every dollar invested on the federal level leverages significant additional funding at the state and local levels. In just a five-year period, 21st CCLC funding leveraged more than $1 billion locally for the benefit of students.

Although spending priorities are not just about the money, it’s worth noting that the federal investment in afterschool has been a catalyst in securing investments from private foundations like the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, as well as other private, corporate and local community investments.

Gutting 21st CCLC would hurt families, weaken communities and threaten our nation’s competitive advantage.

The big question is what lies ahead. We know many of today’s students will have jobs that do not yet exist. We know employers consistently report a need for job candidates with the skills to work in teams, solve problems and communicate effectively. And we know afterschool programs — with an emphasis on engaging, hands-on and personalized activities — provide kids with the opportunity to build employability skills. Afterschool programs drive America’s future innovation and ingenuity.

The president’s position on 21st CCLC runs contrary to what he says he stands for: ensuring Americans compete and excel in today’s global economy. Rather than eliminate, the president should expand 21st CCLC. Over a 10-year period, $4 billion in local grant requests were denied due to lack of federal funding. And more than 19 million families are still in need of afterschool programs.

Congress will ultimately decide the priorities and allocation of funding. If the House and Senate base their decisions on data, 21st CCLC will continue to support quality afterschool programs guided by leaders who lean in every day, understand the needs of students and families, and enthusiastically incorporate partners who offer unique learning experiences and expose kids to careers they may not have previously considered.

21st CCLC has translated dreams into reality for millions of kids. And that is certainly a worthwhile investment for our nation and our future.

Ridgway White is president of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which has granted more than $250 million dollars to help increase access to afterschool programs nationwide.