Supporting Student Success Through Afterschool Programs


student holding an electronic car model in classroom


Children spend approximately 25 percent of their waking hours in school, and policy leaders are often striving to provide more learning opportunities through afterschool programs.  

Broadly defined, afterschool programs (sometimes called OST or Out-of-School Time Programs) are school or community-based programs that offer academic and enrichment activities in the hours that follow the school day. These programs serve children of all ages and include academic support, workforce development opportunities, mentoring relationships, and more. As shown below, these programs are funded and supported legislatively in a variety of ways.  

What the Research Says

Research shows that high-quality afterschool programs improve students’ educational outcomes, school attendance, and social and emotional learningAfterschool Alliance claims that quality afterschool programs understand that children and youth in different age groups vary in academic, psychological, and physical activity needs. Consistent participation in afterschool programs has shown lower dropout rates and has helped close achievement gaps for low-income students. For older youth, regular participation in an afterschool program may also reduce risky behaviors and help them gain college and career-needed skills. 

Afterschool programming has been shown to improve social and academic outcomes for students, however, research points to certain key elements for success. To fully realize all the positives of afterschool programming, students must receive a regular dosage, adequately trained staff, and high-quality programming. Since 2004, Afterschool Alliance has provided the most comprehensive national and state-specific account of how children and youth spend their afterschool hours. In their 2020 America After 3PM report, one of the biggest takeaways is the continued demand for afterschool programs. According to their research, for every child enrolled, three are waiting to get into a program. That equates to roughly 25 million children who are unable to access afterschool programs. The barriers cited are program cost, availability, and transportation or accessibility.  

Funding for Afterschool

The Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, the only dedicated federal funding stream, is available specifically for local afterschool, before-school, and summer learning programs. Through state education-awarded grants, this program currently serves nearly 2 million youths. Research shows that several barriers to access afterschool programming exist, and funding continues to be one of those. Cost and access continue to be barriers to participation in afterschool programs, with about 3 in 5 parents citing this the reason they did not enroll their child in a program. As federal funding has not kept up with inflation, the 21st CCLC funding level is now $10 million lower in inflation-adjusted terms since 2014. Thus, leaving the burden of funding such programs falls on states, communities, and families. Support for engaging and enriching afterschool programs reached its highest level in America After 3PM history in 2020 in, with 87 percent bipartisan parent support of public funding for programs that provide afterschool opportunities to students in communities that have few opportunities for children and youth. However, allocating additional funding for afterschool can be difficult with tight state budgets.  

Currently, twelve states allocate funds dedicated to afterschool programs. An additional eleven states fund initiatives that include afterschool programs as an allowable use. Other states tap into other funds to support afterschool. For example, grant programs in Tennessee and Nebraska receive a portion of their state lottery profits. Missouri is currently considering similar legislation for their unclaimed lottery prizes. Others receive funds from state departments of education or social services. 

The pandemic has brought funding barriers to the forefront. According to the Hunt Institute’s tracker at least 17 states have allocated COVID relief funds to afterschool and summer programs so far. However, a recent survey has cited that 61 percent of afterschool programs have reported high levels of concern around permanent closure.  

Afterschool Policy

States’ efforts to support afterschool include focusing policy and funding on certain populations (e.g. at-risk or older youth) or issue areas (e.g. STEM). Other states have taken steps to collect information the afterschool landscape within their state to inform future policy and funding opportunities. 

Session 2021 Legislative Summary

During the 2021 legislative year, policymakers continued to focus on addressing disrupted learning due to COVID-19. One approach lawmakers have used to reimagine accelerated learning is leveraging quality afterschool programs to reengage students. 

States have looked at supporting afterschool programs by appropriating funds. For example, California Assembly Bill 86 allocated $4.6 billion for Expanded Learning Opportunities Grants. There is no application required to receive these grants; however, to be eligible for the full funding, districts must implement a learning recovery program that provides supplemental instruction, support for social and emotional well-being, and meals to specific student groups.  

Another trend around afterschool programming revolved around investing in literacy-based afterschool programs. In Louisiana, with the passing of Senate Bill 222 in 2021, that looks like focusing on comprehensive early literacy initiatives. The bill focuses on students in kindergarten through third grade who demonstrate literacy gaps. The bill focuses on students in kindergarten through third grade who demonstrate literacy gaps. These students are provided research-based literacy interventions and supports, which may include before- and after-school literacy programs, by a teacher or tutor with specialized literacy training. 

Over the years, states have enacted legislation to support the creation of expanded learning opportunities councils and task forces over the past years. These members (typically, compromised of state agency representatives, community stakeholders, and state legislators) are often assigned to collect information on the state’s extended learning opportunities landscape. Oklahoma did this in 2021 by enacting House Bill 1882 and creating the Out of Schooltime Task Force. The 19-member task force will review existing maps of afterschool programs and highlight gaps in access, 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 programs. 

One of the newer trends in 2021 was legislation that acknowledges that engaging learning experiences can take place outside of the classroom and students may receive credits for such experiences. 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 means for allowing students to request and receive credit for participation in extended learning opportunities.   

Although COVID-19 continues to leave some unknowns, legislation around afterschool programs continues to be a focus for state policymakers moving forward. 

Additional Afterschool Policy Areas

The following examples provide a snapshot of legislation and is not exhaustive.

Additional Afterschool Policy Areas



At-Risk Youth

Afterschool programs provide a safe space for youth during the hours when many are unsupervised and participation in risky behaviors is especially prevalent. In some states, programs targeting at-risk youth may receive special funding.


Councils or task forces have been established by legislatures in at least 16 states. These groups typically convene for a specified amount of time, are comprised of state agency representatives, community stakeholders and often times state legislators, and are tasked with collecting information on the state’s afterschool and/or summer learning landscape and making policy recommendations to the legislature.


Since 2014, with support from the Charles S. Mott Foundation, NCSL has worked with 39 states on data grant projects. NCSL has provided technical assistance to statewide afterschool networks as they collected new and compiled existing state-specific afterschool and summer learning data and shared this data with state legislators and other key stakeholders via written reports and/or data release events. Many grantees have gathered information on afterschool programs and gaps in access to afterschool, while others have conducted afterschool return on investment studies. Links to data reports or mapping tools, when applicable, are included below. To learn more about NCSL’s data mapping project, view the Afterschool Data Project webpage. 

GIS Map Projects 

Return-on-Investment (ROI) Projects 


Students that attend high-quality afterschool programs with STEM programming have shown increased STEM knowledge and skills and a higher likelihood of graduating and pursuing a STEM career. They have also shown to be effective in engaging student populations that are underrepresented in the STEM field, particularly girls and minority students. Additionally, afterschool STEM programs allow for partnerships among schools and the community including colleges and universities, museums, science centers, federal science agencies and businesses.

  • Maryland HB 115 (2016)
    • Establishes the Robotics Grant Program to provide $5.25M (FY2018) in grants to public schools and nonprofit robotics clubs to support existing robotics programs and increase the number of robotics programs in the state.
  • Oregon HB 2258 (2017)
    • Expands types of entities that may receive funding for certain activities related to STEM education and to career and technical education to include nonprofit organizations promoting student leadership and youth job development.

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources

Other Resources