By Katie Landes, Director of GSAN
When the draft Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), otherwise known as No Child Left Behind, reauthorization bills were introduced in Congress earlier this year, both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate versions repurposed existing 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) funding – the only federal program dedicated to afterschool, before school, and summer learning and which currently serves more than 35,000 young people in Georgia, and 1.6 million nationally. (Not familiar with the 21st CCLC program? Check out GSAN’s new video to find out what the initiative really is and for a snapshot of the afterschool programs it funds throughout Georgia.) Instead, the bills created a block grant that would allow local education agencies to fund, based upon a needs assessment, a wide variety of student supports during the school day or afterschool, before school, or summer learning programs.
Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee, which Senator Isakson is a member of, began their consideration of the bill and the nearly 90 amendments and unanimously voted to pass the 21st CCLC amendment!
“The Senate HELP Committee’s vote today to preserve dedicated funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative is a huge victory for the nation’s children and families, and a testament to the dedication and leadership of Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
The Committee’s vote to amend the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by reinstating 21st CCLC is powerful evidence that senators on both sides of the political aisle understand the vital role that high-quality afterschool, before-school and summer learning programs play in the lives of our children, families and communities. Senators rightly concluded that funding for afterschool is essential, and came together to preserve it.
New language in the amendment will allow afterschool funds to be used to provide enrichment activities as part of expanded day programs that add at least 300 hours to the school day. This compromise ensures that expanded day programs tapping into 21st CCLC funds will provide care to students during the hours when parents are at work and students would otherwise be unsupervised; it also provides an opportunity for the high-quality learning experiences that are the cornerstone of quality afterschool programs to reach students in expanded learning programs. This compromise helps us continue serving students already in afterschool and it paves the way for even more champions to work together to expand support and leverage resources so we can reach more students and families with high-quality afterschool activities, whether it be part of a traditional afterschool program, a community school or another model like expanded day.
None of this would have happened without parents and afterschool educators across the nation who rallied to the defense of afterschool funding. They know better than anyone that afterschool programs keep children safe, inspire them to learn, and are a lifeline for working families. And they rose to this challenge by sending a clear message to lawmakers — in personal visits, phone calls, emails, petitions, Twitter storms and more.
That advocacy must continue. Today’s victory doesn’t mean that afterschool funding is out of danger. Funding must still survive on the Senate floor, and then in a conference committee. The House’s version of ESEA reauthorization, which was pulled from floor consideration earlier this year, would eliminate separate funding for 21st CCLC. If the House reauthorizes the legislation without restoring afterschool funding, the nation’s families will have to rely on to a House-Senate conference committee to do the job.
More than 1.6 million children are in afterschool programs across the nation because of the 21st CCLC initiative. They are the winners today. Lawmakers much ensure they continue to have access to high-quality afterschool, before-school and summer learning programs.”
Thanks to all of Georgia’s advocates who showed support for the much needed afterschool funding by reaching out to Georgia’s Congressmen, signing on to letters and petitions, and sharing GSAN’s messages with your networks. Your voices made a big impact in this process and will continue to be critical as the Every Child Achieves Act moves to the Senate floor.
Don’t forget to thank Senator Isakson for his leadership on the HELP committee and his support for afterschool programs and for Georgia’s young people that they serve.