Repeated efforts by the Trump administration to eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program have met with fierce resistance from the Congress, and for good reason. Representatives and senators understand the need for these programs to keep children safe and better prepared to succeed in school and the workforce.

Before President TrumpDonald John TrumpNYT publisher: US didn't step in to protect reporter from arrest in Egypt so paper turned to Ireland Trump instructed administration to withhold military aid for Ukraine days before call with president: report More Democrats threaten impeachment over Trump's dealings with Ukraine MORE puts the finishing touches on his next budget for education, it’s worth sharing the mission of the 21st CCLC program and reviewing recent research about its significant impacts.


Serving some 1.7 million young people nationwide, 21st CCLC programming ranges from small, school-based centers to large, multi-site programs that leverage public and private funding. The programs operate in remote rural areas where they are literally the only program for miles around, to programs located in our largest cities, to many mid-size communities in between. Altogether, children in thousands of communities are benefitting from participation in 21st CCLC programs.

For all their variety, 21st CCLC programs share many strengths. They typically serve students from low-income communities who do not otherwise have access to safe and supportive places to be when school is out and before their parents come home from work. Rather than children spending their afterschool hours home alone or hanging out unsupervised, 21st CCLC programs offer high-quality, hands-on activities under the supervision of trained and caring staff. They provide skills that help young people succeed at school and in life, including thinking critically, communicating effectively, and working with others.

The programs are offered in cooperation with local public schools, as well as community organizations such as the Y and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. This sponsorship by local schools, youth groups and other organizations helps communities to make good use of buildings and playgrounds during afterschool hours and to strengthen the connections between school and community.

21st CCLC programming is decidedly different today than when it was created nearly two decades ago. The offerings have expanded and evolved, in part, in response to what science has told us about how kids learn and in what environments they thrive. The current program has a broad mission to promote both academic and life skills through a wide array of engaging and enriching activities in the arts, science, music, and sports in addition to math and literacy activities. The success of these activities in promoting positive youth development and academic achievement has come as a result of sustained efforts to improve the quality of the programs through ongoing staff education and training, technical assistance and quality monitoring, and additional funds devoted to program improvement.

More than a decade of implementing a continuous improvement process has led 21st CCLC programs to focus on complementing -- but not duplicating -- the school day. After a highly structured and focused school day, young people need a chance to learn in a different way. These programs also help to protect young people from the risks associated with extended periods of unsupervised time afterschool, including early alcohol and drug use, early sexual activity, truancy and other problem behaviors.

A cross-section of current research has captured the success of high-quality afterschool programs at 21st CCLC sites and elsewhere in protecting and promoting healthy child development. The effects of these programs are described in detail in a comprehensive review of more than 300 studies I published with colleagues in the Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science. The weight of the evidence shows that afterschool programs can and do make a positive difference in students’ achievement, attendance and conduct. Recently, in a paper published in the journal Child Development, my colleagues and I also reported longer term effects of afterschool programs that are comparable in size to high-quality early education programs. These latest findings demonstrated the importance of high-quality early education AND high-quality afterschool programs for children’s later academic and social outcomes.

My fervent hope is that President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump DeVos says Trump 'could talk about education more' Republicans to hand out 'baseball cards' mocking Gary Peters in Michigan MORE will take the preponderance of evidence about the impacts of contemporary 21st CCLC programs into account as they decide their budget recommendations. High-quality afterschool and summer learning programs have been -- and will continue to be -- a worthy investment that will ensure these learning opportunities remain accessible to children and youth who so sorely need them.

The current program may serve 1.7 million young people, but millions more young people would attend the programs (and benefit from them) if given the chance.

Vandell is a distinguished education researcher and founding dean of the School of Education at the University of California-Irvine.