July 23, 2017

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Federally Funded Afterschool Programs Safe—for Now

Illustration: Thinkstock/retrorocket

Many librarians were heartened to learn that the temporary spending deal signed by President Trump on April 28 did not eliminate federal funds for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, as proposed in the President’s first budget. Afterschool programs, which are also critical for many students, were also on the chopping block, with the proposed elimination of $1.1 billion for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, which provides grants that fund afterschool activities, some taking place in libraries. While funding for 21st CCLC was also preserved in the latest spending bill—in fact, it increased by $25 million for FY 2017—the bill is a short-term fix devised to avert a government shutdown. The President’s budget is still aiming for elimination of the program in the long term, and it’s likely the issue will be revisited when budget negotiations ramp up again this fall.

Around the nation, more than 1.5 million students in grades K–12 are involved in programs funded by these grants, some taking place in libraries, which provide targeted assistance to students in high-poverty areas. Afterschool programs give the children of working parents a place to go after the final bell rings, keeping them under the guidance of adults. Many students turn to sports to fill these hours. But if that isn’t their thing, potential budget cuts mean that options such as theater, debate, and some library-based activities will be less available, especially in underserved school districts.

It’s these neighborhoods where afterschool programs may provide the most help, says Kristin Fontichiaro, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, who helps arrange maker space afterschool programs at libraries in Ann Arbor.

During an afterschool program at Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor, MI, a student responds to a design challenge to improve transportation by creating a prototype made from disassembled toy parts. Photo by Ben Rearick

We are looking at children in schools that have cut [everything] but the essentials, and who may be letting themselves into an empty home when the adults are at work,” Fontichiaro says.

Elsewhere in Michigan, public librarians are working to keep students busy once school has let out, providing activities that range from classes in coding to primers on everyday financial skills.

“We clearly see the benefits of afterschool programs for these kids,” says Rhonda Farrell-Butler, children and teen services coordinator for Saginaw Public Libraries (SPL). “The programs expose them to a lot of different interests and organizations in the community, and they do a lot of good.”

While the afterschool programs at SPL aren’t directly funded by 21st CCLC, these grants still impact attendance at the programs Farrell-Butler and her colleagues oversee. That’s because funding from the program does go to Saginaw Public Schools—including a grant that makes it possible to bus students to and from the library once the school day is finished.

Afterschool programs can also help to buoy student performance, keeping kids on track in their studies and exposing them to subjects that they may not experience in the course of a normal school day. “For some children, the ability to decide what they’d like to explore is sometimes the only time they have in a day to make their own choices,” says Fontichiaro.

The impact of such programs results is measurable performance gains. Studies conducted in Washington and Wisconsin found that regular participation in afterschool programs through 21st CCLC was correlated with improved student attendance, classroom behavior, and grades in reading and math classes, according to a 2015 report by the Afterschool Alliance.

If the more than $1 billion earmarked for 21st CCLC programs is cut from the Department of Education’s budget, it’s not clear how that money could be made up—or how programs would continue.

The IMLS also provides grants that fund other afterschool offerings, including Kristin Fontichiaro’s maker space programs. “If we lose 21st Century funding, the loss of IMLS pilot dollars is going to compound the problem in America’s low-income areas,” she says.


Ian Chant is a former editor at Library Journal and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, and on NPR.

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