Expanding Learning Opportunities Through Afterschool Programs



children building carsSince children spend an average of 20 percent of their waking hours in school, education policy leaders often look at ways to provide more learning opportunities through afterschool programs.

Afterschool programs are school or community-based programs that offer students a variety of academic and enrichment activities in the hours that follow the school day. As described 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 learning. Consistent participation in afterschool programs has also been found to lower dropout rates and help to close achievement gaps for low-income students. For older youth, regular participation in an afterschool program may also reduce risky behaviors and help them to gain skills needed for college and career.

Researchers point out, however, that without regular dosage, adequately trained staff, and high-quality programming, the positive social and academic outcomes from afterschool may not be fully realized.  

Funding for Afterschool

Only one dedicated federal funding stream, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, is available for afterschool programs. Although 24 percent of the children in afterschool programs live in communities with concentrated poverty, federal funds cover only 11 percent of program costs. Therefore, the burden of funding such programs often falls on states, communities and parents.

Twenty-one 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 state funds to support afterschool; grant programs in Tennessee and Nebraska, for example, receive a portion of the lottery profits in their states. Others receive funds from state departments of education or social services.

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 on the state of afterschool within their state to inform future policy and funding opportunities.

Session 2019 Legislative Summary

More than 30 states considered legislation related to afterschool and summer learning programs, and 10 states successfully enacted legislation. Delaware created an Expanded Learning Opportunities Council based on the recommendations of the Statewide After School Initiative (SAIL) Task Force. The council's activities include providing research, planning, and coordination for before and after school programs and summer learning opportunities for school age children.

One approach for some states is to ensure that afterschool programs are maximizing existing funding. Maine legislators, for example, passed a bill requiring that all afterschool programs operating in schools meeting Free and Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL) poverty thresholds apply for the federal afterschool snacks grant program, with assistance from state agencies as needed.

As part of a sweeping overhaul of its education funding approach, New Mexico introduced a new weighted per pupil reimbursement for school districts that choose to implement an extended learning program. This would include the addition of days to the school year, as well as afterschool programming. This could provide up to $150 million for extended learning, depending on how many districts opt into the program. 

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 exisiting 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.


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