Correcting Bush’s Math on Afterschool for Kids

Resource type: News

Gara LaMarche |

From time to time, Atlantic Currents will be written by my colleagues at Atlantic and by the staff of organisations we support. This week, two programme executives with Atlantic’s U.S. Children & Youth Programme, Nicole Gallant and Marisha Wignaraja, share their thoughts about the importance of protecting vital afterschool and out-of-school programmes from potentially devastating budget cuts proposed by President Bush. Nicole and Marisha point to the work of a major coalition Atlantic supports and underscore the need for vigilance and advocacy on behalf of low-income kids and kids of colour as the U.S. economy worsens.
Gara LaMarche

Recalling his high school years in the South Bronx, Reinaldo Llano, now 31, understands that at age 15 he was at a fork in his life’s path: there was a dangerous path, and there was a good path.

It was an afterschool programme, Aspira of New York, that helped him chose the good path that he still finds himself on today.

“There was a huge drop-out rate at our school, and I was on the verge,” Reinaldo said during a phone call last week from his office in Orlando, Florida. “I turned it around by going to the afterschool programme. It gave me confidence, got me involved in the community and with Hispanic leadership, and it got me thinking about going to college.”

Aspira helped Reinaldo land an internship at Time Warner, which he parlayed into work during his high school and college years. That experience led to his current job: Director of Corporate and Community Relations for Brighthouse Networks, the former Time Warner cable television operations. Besides serving on several local community boards, Reinaldo is on the Board of Directors of the Afterschool Alliance, www.afterschoolalliance.org, a national public awareness and advocacy organisation working to ensure that all children and youth have access to the same kind of quality afterschool programme that put Reinaldo on the path to success. To accomplish this, the Afterschool Alliance works with hundreds of national and state organisations and boasts more than 20,000 afterschool programme partners.

Reinaldo’s story teaches us that every young person from every economic, racial, and cultural background should have the opportunity to learn, connect with others, develop leadership skills, and grow during afterschool hours.

While children’s lives are complex, the afterschool equation is clear. Succeeding in the middle-school years, perhaps the toughest period in a young person’s life, is key to doing well in high school. And, of course, graduating from high school is essential to leading a much more fulfilling life. Like Reinaldo, middle-school students who participate in high-quality afterschool activities learn to take control of their lives and do better in school and beyond.

Affluent families are able to pay for their children to participate in structured afterschool study programmes, sports teams, and art, music, and religious education. Unfortunately, poor families cannot afford the same options, but their kids need afterschool learning as much as, if not more than, kids from more affluent families. To make matters worse, President Bush has recommended cuts in federal programmes that support afterschool opportunities for low-income kids, many in communities of color.

Taking part in structured, supervised programmes keeps kids safe and inspires them to learn. Afterschool programmes offer students help with homework, and provide an array of enrichment activities not always available during the regular school day. Moreover, we know that afterschool provides young people with the opportunities to tap into their leadership skills and express their community spirit.

That’s why we and our colleagues at The Atlantic Philanthropies support the efforts of Reinaldo, the Afterschool Alliance, and other advocates to change this equation.

Unfortunately, not everyone understands the simple math of adding afterschool to the equation of a young person’s life.

In his proposed budget for 2009, President Bush has recommended cutting funds for afterschool programmes from $1.1 billion in 2008 to $800 million in 2009. At a time when we should be adding more dollars to the afterschool equation, the President has proposed subtracting $300 million.

The Afterschool Alliance is working hard to correct the President’s math. The Alliance is making it clear that when it comes to funding for afterschool, we need addition, and certainly not subtraction, if we are to avoid creating an even bigger gulf between those families who can afford afterschool activities and those who cannot.

The numbers are clear, but President Bush’s proposed 2009 budget ignores them. Nearly 6.5 million children are enrolled in afterschool programmes, but more than 14 million children are unsupervised in the afternoons, including four million middle-schoolers. Afterschool programmes are making a difference, and we need more of them, not fewer.

Over the past decade, the federal government has supported afterschool but it has never fully funded these programmes. In 2008, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative will provide $1.1 billion for afterschool programmes around the nation, with grants awarded by state education agencies. This will result in afterschool opportunities for about 1.1 million children – a significant number, but still far from meeting the needs of all 14 million children with no afterschool options.

Ironically, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, President Bush’s domestic legacy legislation, recognised the need for increased funding for afterschool and mapped out a series of modest but steady increases. Had the U.S. Congress and the President followed that roadmap over the last six years, 21st CCLCs would be serving 2.5 million children today.

Unfortunately, the President’s new math subtracts 300,000 children from the afterschool equation at a time when we should be growing afterschool.

In addition to fully funding NCLB and the 21st CCLCs initiative, Atlantic and many of the organisations we support seek the following:

  • Better coordination of funding for afterschool;
  • Better integration of in-school and out-of-school hours to provide a seamless learning environment for children, including summer programmes; and
  • Improving the quality and accountability of programmes to serve poor children and families better.

Afterschool advocates will certainly work to make sure that President Bush understands another mathematical equation: the number of votes needed in Congress to block his proposed cuts.

It appears to be a hard lesson for President Bush to learn, because his proposed 2009 cuts renew his 2003 proposal to cut afterschool funding, a plan rejected by a Republican-controlled Congress.

While we can be optimistic that Republicans and Democrats in Congress will reject the President’s desire to subtract funds from afterschool, we need to ensure that we are adding resources and fully funding these programmes.

We encourage you to join Reinaldo and his partners at the Afterschool Alliance, who are gearing up for a major grassroots campaign to stop the President’s proposed cuts and support a budget increase. That’s exactly the kind of activity that defeated President’s proposed cuts in 2003, and it’s what will be needed in 2008 as well.

We’ve done the math – it’s simple. Add your voice to Reinaldo’s and visit www.afterschoolalliance.org to join the fight to defend afterschool and stop the President’s budget cuts.

Nicole Gallant and Marisha Wignaraja