When I was in 2nd-grade, my parents divorced. My mother, who had previously worked part-time, had to go back to work full-time — and of course, find extra childcare for my sister and me. I remember being none too happy about having to start attending after-school care. But looking back, I have fond memories of it. The teachers were loving, my homework got done before I got home, and there were often enriching activities like theater and art that my school didn’t always offer.
For my mother, it was a godsend. Some of the programs were reduced in price, and others were completely free, which was key for a woman who was suddenly on her own and in need of any financial and childcare assistance she could get. Not only that, but she felt relieved knowing her daughters had a safe and loving place to go after school.
That’s why it broke my heart to hear that the new proposed budget cuts seek to slash funding to after-school programs throughout our country — just like the ones I’d spend my childhood in. According to The Washington Post, the program the current administration is seeking to cut is known 21st Century Community Learning Centers, and it funds school districts, churches, nonprofit groups, and summer programs that serve over 1.6 million children nationwide.
The proposed cuts wouldn’t be small, either — they reportedly total a whopping 1.5 billion dollars. But most troubling of all is the fact they would undoubtedly affect our nation’s poorest children, many of whom would suddenly have nowhere to go once school gets out, and whose parents would be put in the position of having to possibly pay for programs that they may not be able to afford.
“It’s heart-wrenching,” Bridget Laird, chief executive of Wings for Kids, tells The Washington Post.
Laird’s programs serve 1,600 poor children in the Georgia and South Carolina area. She fears that the cuts proposed would completely eliminate these vital programs.
“I can’t imagine if that were turned off — all of those kids running around the streets,” Laird commented.
The administration argues that these after-school programs are not effective. But Laird and other experts beg to differ. They see firsthand how these programs keep their at-risk kids safe, cared for, and able to keep up academically. Not only that, but they also claim that there’s plenty of evidence out there to back up their case.
As Heather Weiss, of the independent Global Family Research Project tells The Washington Post:
“Engaging kids in high-quality after-school programs, many of which are supported by 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants, results in kids doing better in school. They’re more likely to graduate and to excel in the labor market.”
It’s kind of a no-brainer if you think about it: of course these programs would have a positive effect on kids! But if you need further evidence, it’s certainly out there. Take the Harvard Family Research Report released in 2008. The study found that kids who attend after-school programs have higher rates of school attendance, show more positive attitudes toward school, and — most importantly — are less likely to drop out of school.
It should also be noted that the 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding is used by programs that primarily care for minority children, many of whom would not have access to after-school care at all if the programs did not exist. A 2015 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence looked at after-school programs and their impact on at-risk and minority children. The researchers found that after-school programs were especially important for these children’s livelihoods and futures.
“The potential to benefit at-risk students disproportionately is crucial, given the current negative academic and behavioral outcomes facing at-risk adolescents, such as academic grades, substance use, gang involvement, and truancy,” the researchers explain.
The bottom line is this: Whether or not cuts to these programs will affect you or your own kids personally, it’s worth considering the fact that all children suffer when programs that support communities and their children are cut. Access to high-quality tutoring, sports, or other extracurricular programs are things that wealthier families may take for granted, but there is no reason why lower-income families shouldn’t have equal access to these sort of opportunities, too.
And the truth is, you never know when you’ll be in need of supportive programs like these. I know that my own mother was blindsided when my father left her and she suddenly needed to support her two girls. Assistance programs like these saved her — and me too. I will never forget the loving care I received from the staff at the after-school centers I attended. Sometimes I complained and wished that I could have gone home once school ended. But these programs kept me safe and gave me opportunities that I would not otherwise have had. In many ways, they truly became my second home — and for that, I am forever grateful.