As COVID-19 changed the landscape of work and life, state legislatures faced many challenges around suspended sessions, limited access to state capitols and alternatives to physical meetings. However, education continued to be a vital topic for state legislatures across the country. Specifically, as afterschool and summer learning continued to play a significant role in discussions around reopening and reengaging students, varied types of legislation were considered and enacted.
Summer learning and afterschool programs are often included in umbrella terms such as expanded learning, extended learning opportunities or out-of-school time programs. Research shows that afterschool and summer programs provide safe, developmentally rich settings for learning and development in the hours outside of the school day. These are structured learning environments that occur outside of the traditional school day. Such learning opportunities offer students a chance to supplement and support their learning. The programs serve children of all ages and include academic support, workforce development opportunities, mentoring relations and more.
This white paper examines state legislative action in 2020 and 2021, highlighting trends in afterschool and summer learning policy and identifying topics that are likely to take priority moving forward.
Addressing the Coronavirus Pandemic
While COVID-19 disrupted schools last year by forcing them to close or move to hybrid schedules, learning was unprecedently interrupted. As lawmakers addressed education recovery, they have looked to help students and families by reimagining and accelerating learning. One approach has been through legislation that leverages quality afterschool and summer programs to engage students.
One way states have supported afterschool and summer programs is by funding grant programs. Typically, funding is either geared towards specific populations or has an issue area focus.
Maine enacted House Bill 10 in 2021, establishing the Summer Success Pilot Program Fund. This fund requires the encouragement of facilitation of high-quality summer success pilot programs throughout the state. Guidelines for the programs include focusing on the achievement gap between high-performing and low-performing students. The programs are to focus on community partnerships by involving and partnering with community-based organizations that provide a range of high-quality services to support student learning and development. Additionally, the Maine Commissioner of Education must produce a report annually detailing the programs and recommending whether the pilot program should continue as a pilot or become permanent.
By appropriating funds for extended learning opportunities (ELOs), states addressed pandemic disruption through afterschool and summer learning programs. Colorado passed House Bill 1259 in 2021, which streamlines the application process and reporting requirements for school districts seeking to access funding to provide students with extended learning opportunities to address disrupted learning.
By enacting Assembly Bill 86 in 2021, California allocated $4.6 billion for Expanded Learning Opportunities Grants and $2 billion for In-Person Instruction Grants. There is no application required to receive AB 86 funding. However, to be eligible for full funding for Expanded Learning Opportunities Grants, local education agencies must implement a learning recovery program that provides supplemental instruction, support for social and emotional well-being, and meals to specific student groups.
North Carolina took a different approach to address the disruption. By enacting House Bill 82 in 2021, North Carolina established a school extension learning recovery and enrichment program in schools to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on at-risk students. The programs must provide in-person instruction on specified topics and enrichment subjects for K-12 students. Schools must identify and prioritize at-risk students but may allow students who are not identified as at-risk to participate as space allows.
Similarly, Tennessee enacted House Bill 7004 or the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act. This bill requires local education agencies and public charter schools to implement afterschool learning mini camps, learning loss bridge camps, and summer learning camps to remediate student learning loss. Additionally, it requires that the state education agency help develop and implement a new benchmarking and assessment system, which will be piloted as the pre-and post-test assessment at the camps.
Research has shown that summer learning and afterschool literacy-based programs benefit students by reducing academic achievement gaps and improving literacy levels. Therefore, lawmakers often introduce and enact legislation to invest in literacy-based afterschool and summer learning programs.
In 2020, Nevada passed Assembly Bill 3. This bill provides additional funding for evidence-based and school-based literacy initiatives for students enrolled in kindergarten through third grade. Moreover, the bill includes literacy-based professional development for school personnel providing summer programs for students.
In 2021 Virginia passed House Bill 1865 which requires students in kindergarten to third grade to take a reading diagnostic test that identifies gaps in performance. Following the diagnostic assessment, division superintendents may require such students to participate in programs. Programs may include attendance in remedial public summer school programs.
Louisiana has focused on comprehensive early literacy initiatives with the passing of Senate Bill 222 in 2021. The bill focuses on students in kindergarten through third grade who demonstrate literacy gaps. These students are then provided literacy interventions and supports based on researched methods. Additionally, they will participate in a literacy assessment tool to demonstrate their literacy levels. These literacy supports may include before- and after-school literacy intervention provided by a teacher or tutor with specialized literacy training.
Expanded Learning Opportunities Councils/ Task Forces
States across the U.S. have enacted legislation to support the creation of expanded learning opportunities councils and task forces over the past years. Task forces, comprised typically of state agency representatives, community stakeholders and state legislators, are often assigned the role of collecting information on the state’s extended learning opportunities landscape. After reviewing the state’s landscape, task forces are often required to produce a report that summarizes their findings and makes policy recommendations to the legislature.
In 2021, Oklahoma did this by enacting House Bill 1882 and creating the Out of Schooltime Task Force. The legislation outlines the 19 members of the task force, the number of meetings that will be held, and the overall timeline and goals. The task force will review existing maps of afterschool programs and highlight gaps in access. They will identify and evaluate practices to improve and increase the number of quality, affordable out-of-school programs in the state and review tools to evaluate successful outcomes of the program. Finally, they will recommend best practices and evaluation tools.
In 2021 legislatures acknowledged that engaging learning experiences can take place outside the classroom. These may allow students to learn in nontraditional classrooms and participate in activities that may not be available through their school curriculum, but still receive credit. By enacting House Bill 172 in Idaho, it adds to existing law to provide that students may receive credit for extended learning opportunities or by demonstrating prior knowledge of a content area. Similarly, Alabama enacted House Bill 486 that provides a mean for allowing students to request and receive credit for participation in extended learning opportunities.
Several other afterschool and summer learning measures were enacted across state legislatures in 2021. These topics may not have been considered major legislative trends in 2021 but show the variety of measures enacted across the country.
Virginia House Bill 2135 states that public elementary or secondary schools that qualify for free and reduced-price meals at a minimum of 50% of the population are required to participate in the Afterschool Meal Program. This means students can receive a meal during their afterschool programming.
New Mexico Senate Bill 40 is an act that requires the state-supported K-5 Plus and extended learning time programs at all public schools for the 2021-2022 school year.
Although COVID-19 continues to leave some unknowns, legislation around afterschool and summer learning programs continues to be a focus for state policymakers moving forward.