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Afterschool program funds are available, but are they worth the cost?

Afterschool program funds are available, but are they worth the cost?

June 9, 2010
June 9, 2010

It’s funded by federal tax dollars to the tune of $1.16 billion this year alone, is authorized up to $2.5 billion under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, its effectiveness in improving kids’ academic performance is dubious, and no one outside the education establishment seems to know anything about it.

It’s the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) grant program, and it’s funded by federal tax dollars funneled through the Idaho Department of Education. This year, $1.6 million dollars from the program went to eight Idaho school districts: Blackfoot, Coeur d’Alene, Kendrick, Marsing, Payette, Pocatello/Chubbuck, Weiser and West Side.

Finding independent data to determine if 21st CCLC programs are effective is difficult.

Evaluations by state education departments and groups advocating for afterschool programs are easy enough to find online, but not so for evaluations by independent groups. The Idaho Freedom Foundation contacted numerous current and former members of the state and national education community, and found that while many of them had heard of the program, none were familiar enough with it to comment.

However, one study by the U.S. Department of Education, published a year after NCLB turned administration of 21st CCLC grants over to the states, found the programs had little effect on academic performance, behavior, and “developmental outcomes”.

As recently as 2007, the U.S. Department of Education released a study showing that more often than not, students attending afterschool programs funded by 21st CCLC grants failed to make improvements in reading and math from fall to spring. For instance, in table 1.1, from 2002-2007, the percentage of participants in 21st CCLC programs whose math scores improved as the year progressed consistently fell short of goals.

Documents obtained from the Idaho Department of Education
show that since 2007, $5.1 million in 21st CCLC grant funds have gone to school systems and community centers across the state. Despite this funding, participants’ academic performance has not improved greatly, and in one area it has dropped.

The records show that in the two-year period from 2007-09, the percentage of students at or above proficiency in math improved from 72 to 78 percent, while reading proficiency dropped from 75 to 71 percent, and language arts proficiency rose from 57 to 63 percent.

One school district that is receiving funding under the 21st CCLC program is the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District No. 25. The district is currently receiving two 21st CCLC grants, one awarded in 2009 and the other awarded this year. Each award went to fund afterschool programs at three specific schools, therefore a total of six schools in the Pocatello/Chubbuck district are currently receiving 21st CCLC funds.

During the five years of the first grant (2009-2013), the district will receive about $650,000, and for the lifespan of the grant awarded this year (2010-2014), it will receive about $840,000.

In addition to the 21st CCLC grant money, the Pocatello/Chubbuck district is also receiving a “stimulus” grant of $119,000. That money is going to fund afterschool programs for yet another three schools.

“Because those funds are available for two years … this year and next year … we added three more elementary schools with higher-need populations of students, based on our 21st Century programs,” said Patti Mortensen, the director of elementary education for the district.

As many as 360 students, up to 40 each at the nine schools, can participate in the afterschool programs. That means the six schools in the Pocatello/Chubbuck district that have afterschool programs funded by 21st CCLC grants can handle as many as 240 students. Divided by the roughly $328,531 in 21st CCLC grant funding received this year, that means the cost of those programs per student is at least $1,368.

The federal afterschool program was first authorized in 1994, under the administration of the U.S. Department of Education. It was reauthorized in 2001 under NCLB, with funding growing from about $40 million in 1998 to more than $1 billion in 2010 ($2.5 billion were authorized under NCLB for 2010, of which $1.16 billion were appropriated). NCLB shifted the granting authority from the U.S. Department of Education to the states.

The terms of the grant are that they are for five years each and are non-renewable. The programs they fund are expected to be self-supporting by the end of five years. Recipients, such as school districts, are allowed to compete for grants each year, but successive grants cannot be used for the same schools, programs, and community centers for which a grant was previously awarded.

According to the Idaho Department of Education, the intent of the grants is to fund afterschool programs to boost academic achievement, increase physical activity, and provide opportunities for social and cultural enrichment in low-income, higher-crime areas.

“Structured, high-quality afterschool programs are a key component to preventing gang activity, drug use and delinquent behavior. Idaho 21st CCLC afterschool programs have demonstrated tremendous success in cultivating academic success among low-performing students,” said a state Department of Education press release in April.

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