The Trump administration has proposed cutting the federal education budget by $9.2 billion, or 14 percent, in 2018. Included in these cuts is the elimination of the 21st Century Community Learning Center program (21st CCLC). The 21st CCLC supports organizations that provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours, particularly for students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. Cutting this program is a callous swipe of the pen that will have calamitous effects on the students and families it benefits.
According to the proposed budget, the program is being cut for lacking "strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement." This statement couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the value of enrichment programs and their correlation to student achievement has been well documented over several decades.
A summary of formal evaluations of programs by the nonprofit organization Afterschool Alliance found that quality enrichment programming is linked to increased academic achievement and improvements in student engagement, school attendance and disciplinary actions. One study of more than 3,000 low-income elementary and middle school students who regularly attend programs showed gains of 12 percentiles on standardized math tests as compared to peers who did not attend.
A Chicago Public Schools study of a program called After-School All-Stars (ASAS), found that of 75,000 ASAS participants, 18 percent experienced a decrease in school-day absences, compared to non-participating students; these same students were 22 percent less likely to be suspended than non-participants. And these documented statistics are merely part of the overall benefit; these programs also support students and their families by keeping kids safe, healthy and active after school and during the summer months.
In the summer of 2009, I had a chance to work with ASAS through a program hosted by St. John's University in Queens, NY. ASAS, which is partially funded by the 21st CCLC, was available free for kids from the surrounding communities, providing them with instruction in reading and math as well as access to healthy food and an enriching environment during summer break.
My work with ASAS focused on helping kids between the ages of seven and thirteen build vocabulary and literacy skills. Studies have shown that economically disadvantaged students are exposed to fewer words in daily life than their wealthier peers. One study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley showed that, in a typical hour, the average child in a welfare home will hear only 616 words, while a child in the average professional home will hear 2,153 words.
The disparity in exposure leads to a well-documented word gap that widens as students progress through the grades. This word gap can have a debilitating effect on academic achievement because vocabulary knowledge is among the best predictors of success on standardized tests.
Meaningful learning outcomes are at risk of being wiped out due to the profound budget cuts proposed by President Trump. Cutting the 21st CCLC could take comprehensive enrichment services away from as many as 1.6 million children, the majority of whom are from low-income communities. And yet it only takes $1.2 billion to fund this program, an infinitesimal slice of the proposed $1.15 trillion Trump budget — one-tenth of one percent to be precise.
To make matters worse, the proposed budget includes $1.4 billion for school vouchers, a program that has been shown to actually decrease academic achievement among disadvantaged students. What becomes clear, as you compare apples to apples, is that politics and ideology often overshadow what’s best for students.
After school and summer school enrichment programs can provide additional academic support to help close the gap between low-income students and their more privileged peers. They can also build character and confidence while keeping students safe and healthy outside of school hours. The evidence in support of enrichment programs is clear, and anyone who has worked in these settings can tell you the impact is tangible. All we can hope is that Congress defers to its better judgement and refuses to legislate at the expense of our kids.
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