Supporting Student Success Through Afterschool Programs



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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 2020 Legislative Summary

As COVID-19 changed the landscape of work and life, state legislatures faced many challenges. Legislatures had to suspend sessions, limit access to state capitols, and explore alternatives to physical meetings, while abiding to the legislative constraints. Past legislative trends around afterschool revolved around creating councils and taskforces to provide research, expand the free and reduced lunch to include snacks during afterschool, and provide additional funding allocated for afterschool programming.  

During the pandemic, many states began to look at reopening schools in the fall of 2020 and how to help students catch up and keep up. Afterschool and summer programs were increasing recognized for their  role in mitigating learning loss

Throughout a typical year, learning loss is of concern due to prolonged periods of out-of-school time; however, 2020 has exacerbated these concerns. Research shows that quality afterschool programs can narrow the math gap experienced in K-5 learning. Additionally, this meta-analysis indicates that students can expect gains in multiple areas including improved attendance, positive social behaviors, and test scores if they attend high-quality afterschool programs. New Jersey is considering legislation to establish the Alleviating Learning Loss Grant Program. This aims to assist public schools in establishing or expanding certain educational programs to address learning loss in students.  

One approach several states have taken to boost student learning is utilizing state and federal funding to support summer and afterschool programs. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, which includes $13.5 billion to the Elementary and Secondary Education Relief (ESSER) Fund and $3 billion to the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. Alabama has allocated $9 million in GEER funds to support intensive before and after school tutoring to help combat learning loss. Vermont devoted $6 million for school-age providers to use for afterschool programs. These two examples of funding were used to address pandemic challenges and play a role in the long-term recovery. 

Following the CARES Act, Congress passed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA) on December 27th, 2020. This provided an additional $54.3 billion to the ESSER Fund and $1.3 billion to the GEER Fund. 

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