After-school programs are a lifeline for kids and parents

June 5th, 2017

The Boston Globe

JUNE 05, 2017

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION has announced its first full budget, which calls for the elimination of federal funding for after-school and summer programs for low-income communities, known as 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

This cut would have drastic effects for working families. Federal funding for after-school programming supports 1.1 million students nationwide. An overwhelming body of evidence says that these programs help to close the opportunity gap in education, increase student academic and behavioral outcomes, and reduce school absences.

These programs are often a lifeline for working parents, especially working mothers. As Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen recently observed, programs that enable women to balance work and family life help foster greater workforce participation, which has real economic consequences: Increases in women’s workforce participation from 1948-1990 expanded the potential growth rate of real GDP by a half percentage point per year.

Federal investments in after-school programs yield a significant return on investment. The total cost of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is only $1.2 billion, approximately 0.2 percent of total federal spending, and only one-20th the expected cost of Trump’s border wall. Unlike the wall, federal investments in after-school programs yield a 3-to-1 return, according to state and national reports, by increasing students’ earning potential and reducing crime and other social safety net expenses.

At Citizen Schools, a national after-school organization that serves 5,000 students in five states, we have seen firsthand the difference that these programs make in young people’s lives. Consider a student named Nelson, who attends Joseph A. Browne Middle School in Chelsea. Nelson has struggled during the traditional school day. His mother works two jobs. She couldn’t afford the academic and extracurricular supports that Citizen Schools makes possible, so she relies on federal funding to ensure that Nelson is in a safe, enriching space after school. That matters, because these supports help change a student’s academic trajectory: On average, students at Citizen Schools are 25 percent more likely to go to college and twice as likely to graduate with a four-year college degree, as compared with their peers. At Citizen Schools, Nelson has thrived.

Even for those of us not currently juggling the demands of our children’s education with the obligations of work, we need to ask ourselves, as a society: Do we have a responsibility to help educate our neighbor’s children? Among those members of Congress who ultimately will be responsible for accepting or rejecting the administration’s proposal, we hope that the answer is a resounding “yes.”

We need to recognize as a nation that education is about more than the school day and school year. It is about what happens before children are ready to enter school, what happens during half the days in the year they are not in school, what happens after school ends and before a parent comes home, and about how students transition from school to work. Yes, school reform is essential. But it is not enough to meet the challenge of opportunity for the next generation. We must work more broadly to assure adequate education for all our kids.

The reality is that a significant majority of Americans support federal funding for after-school programs because those programs measurably benefit students, working families, and the broader economy — and that’s good for all of us.

Lawrence H. Summers is president emeritus of Harvard University and former secretary of the US Treasury. He chairs the Board of Citizen Schools. Emily McCann is the CEO of Citizen Schools.