By Katie Landes, Director of GSAN
After years of debate and gridlock, the most sweeping education-reform legislation is up for reauthorization. Teachers, policy makers and providers know it as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), to everyone else it’s known as No Child Left Behind. This bill took effect back 2002, and has been up for reauthorization for the past eight years, but in that time Congress has not been able to get a bill through to the President’s desk. Many think 2015 is the year things could change.
The reauthorization process officially kicked off last week with the release of Senator Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) draft reauthorization bill. The proposed “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015” would replace No Child Left Behind and looks to increase flexibility for states while reducing the federal role.
Key Points of the Proposed bill Include:
- Offering two approaches to annual testing requirements
- Making teacher evaluation through test scores optional
- Eliminating a range of existing programs including the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative
The most concerning part of this draft is the elimination of the designated funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC). Currently, 21st CCLC is the only federal program dedicated to providing young people with quality enrichment, academic programming and a wide range of student support during the hours when school is out, including afterschool, weekends, holidays and over the summer. Over 35,000 young people in Georgia – and 1.5 million nationally – benefit from these programs each year.
The proposed ESEA legislation, as it is currently drafted, does not include any designated funding for 21st CCLCs. Instead, the bill would repurpose existing 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding to create a Safe and Healthy Student Block Grant, and would give local education agencies (LEAs) the option to fund a wide variety of student supports. There is a second block grant aimed at Improving Student Academic Achievement that LEAs could use to fund out of school time supports, but it also may be used to fund much needed in school academic supports including teacher and principal training. For that reason, it is worth noting, but unlikely that afterschool or summer learning would see any of those dollars. (For more detailed summaries of the key elements of both the Improving Student Academic Achievement (Title II) and Safe and Healthy Students (Title IV) block grants within Senator Alexander’s proposed draft ESEA bill, click here.)
What this bill could mean for afterschool
We are concerned about Senator Alexander’s draft ESEA bill in its current form, and instead recommend the ESEA reauthorization include the existing designated funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Without a separate funding stream specifically targeting learning outside the school day, essential learning opportunities that are helping more than 1.5 million young people better prepare for college, careers and life may disappear.
Beyond the much-needed afterschool funding for our state, we are also concerned about many unintended consequences that might arise from not providing a separate funding stream for out-of-school time learning.
- Community- and faith-based organizations will no longer be permitted to be lead grantees for afterschool programming – under the current draft, only school districts can apply or the funding. This means that other programs, including Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs, churches, and colleges and universities, won’t be eligible for this funding. Currently in Georgia, 19% of 21st CCLC grantees fit in this category. School districts can choose to partner with these other organizations, but there is no encouragement or incentive to do so.
- Most, if not all, of the funding for afterschool and summer programs is at risk of being redirected to programming within the school day. The unmet demand for afterschool programming has continued to grow in Georgia. In 2014, nearly 600,000 children (40% of those not currently enrolled in an afterschool program) in Georgia would be enrolled in a program if one were available to them, according to their parents. Also, there is a great demand for 21st CCLC funding across the state. In 2014, Georgia was only able to fund approximately half of the qualified 21st CCLC applications.
- More young people will be unsupervised in the hours after the school day ends. This will likely lead to increased juvenile crime and other inappropriate activities.
- More working parents will struggle to fill the gap between when the school day and workday ends and overall worker productivity may decrease during those hours. 78% of Georgia parents agree that afterschool programs help working parents keep their jobs and give them peace of mind about their children when they are at work.
- Families will struggle to access a wide variety of support services that are currently coordinated through afterschool and summer programs including healthy meals, access to social services, and mentoring.
- Opportunities for partnership across the state will be weakened. Over the past years, Georgia has been able to work collaboratively to host the state’s first Afterschool & Youth Development Conference and has developed the Georgia Afterschool & Youth Development Quality Standards. These efforts have been so important in increasing the quality of our afterschool and summer learning programs. Without 21st CCLC funding these opportunities for state level work and partnerships would not be near as strong.
So what can we do?
The current draft of the ESEA bill is not set in stone, and moving forward, the process will likely include a number of discussion sessions, followed by negotiations to determine the legislation that will be marked up in the Senate Health, Educations, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee likely during the middle of next month. An ESEA bill could be debated on the Senate floor as early as this spring or summer.
Friends of afterschool and summer learning programs are encouraged to reach out to our Senators and Congressmen to explain the value and importance of maintaining separate federal funding for programs that support young people when school is out. Georgia is happy to have Senator Isakson on the Senate HELP committee and to have him as part of the leadership for reauthorizing ESEA. As a member of the HELP committee, Senator Isakson especially needs to hear your voice! A fact sheet created by the Afterschool Alliance and action alert can be accessed to help send the message to Congress that afterschool is not an extra, but instead essential to the success of children in school and in life.