Education Department Wants to Trim the Fat on Those Crazy Useless After School Programs

President #45’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, proposes cutting $1.2 billion of funding for afterschool and summer programs because there is “no demonstrable evidence they are actually helping [academic] results.”  Logically, he explains, after school programs are an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars.

Think again.

As a parent of two, a taxpayer and a 16-year veteran of running after school and summer programs (including the very programs being proposed for cuts), I disagree.

But is this obtuse perspective all Mr. Mulvaney fault? He oversees the Office of Management and Budget. I would imagine he spends a great portion of his day sifting through data points and getting complicated results from very bright data geeks and budget measurement wonks.  So, he’s not making this stuff up, right?

It’s obvious to me that we have failed Mr. Mulvaney and his wonks, as the argument was flawed long before it hit his mathematically astute desk. The value of after school and summer programs is so much more far-reaching than their very real academic impact, which he promptly discredited.

So here, Sir, are just a handful of talking points you should have been provided before you were asked to make decisions on the value of after school and summer programs:

Keeping families employed

School generally ends at 2pm. Parents in poor neighborhoods who are lucky enough to work a regular schedule get off at 5pm.  And, because we support working parents, we need quality options that allow kids to experience the world outside the classroom like many of their friends whose families can afford dance, karate, mandarin and piano lessons, and visits to local museums.

Summer learning loss

Many poor kids start school already behind academically. Beginning in Pre-K they spend the whole school year playing catch up. Often, even with a year’s worth of progress, they go into the summer still a few steps behind their peers. The average summer camp now runs $304/week. Poor kids lose 2-3 months of knowledge while home in the summer break. This 2-steps-forward-1-step-back happens year-after-year, and by 5th grade the gap is unfathomable.

Communities are safer

Kids in poor neighborhoods are more likely to drop-out of school because they are more highly exposed to gang-violence, substance abuse, criminal activity and unsafe sexual behaviors.  The afterschool hours are a hotbed for this activity, when working parents are not home to supervise.

More than just academics

Other really serious issues get attention during out-of-school time programs, like drown prevention.  African-American kids are 6 times more likely to drown than white and Hispanic kids. In Florida, we lead the nation in childhood drowning deaths. Guess when kids usually get swim lessons? During summer programs.

The Title 1 schools served by these programs are where the majority of kids qualify for free and reduced priced lunches. The meal they get in after school could be the last one they have that evening.

Lots of positive outcomes

Kids who consistently attend afterschool programs are less likely to skip school and engage in drinking. But more importantly, they have higher academic performance, stronger social skills, and higher self-esteem. These kids are more likely to attend college, vote and volunteer later in life.

After school and summer programs are real answers to many real issues. They address the whole child. We haven’t even delved into the obesity issues, ESOL student support or the homework barriers for families who need it.  Parents like me know these first hand.

But, we need people like Mr. Mulvaney and his wonks.  The folks spending the money on programs should be measured independently by departments like his to help make tough decision and to ensure implementers haven’t run amuck.  Isn’t that a key factor in accountability?

I’m going to presume Mr. Mulvaney didn’t have all the information for sound decision-making.  Because if he had, I know he would never authorize cutting $1.2 billion, putting the poorest kids at risk.

What do you think?



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