As part of “Afterschool During COVID-19 and Beyond,” NCSL’s recent two-day virtual meeting on afterschool programming, experts discussed the importance of the 21st Century Learning Centers initiative and spotlighted the renewed urgency of the “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” report, which details juvenile crime rates during afterschool hours. During the plenary session, Jodi Grant from the Afterschool Alliance and Barry Ford from the Council for a Strong America emphasized the importance of afterschool programs, especially during this COVID-19 era when students’ out-of-school hours are increasing.
The 21st Century Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative is the only federal funding source specifically allocated to afterschool programs. Before COVID-19 changed the afterschool landscape, 21st CCLC programs were serving 1.7 million children and youth in pre-K through 12th grade. There were 10,249 school-based and community centers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. However, because of the pandemic, programs serving mostly higher income children were twice as likely as programs serving mostly low-income children to report being physically open. Additionally, 21st CCLC programs were less likely to be physically open this summer, in part due to a higher likelihood of being in a public school. However, 27% of programs in the summer reported serving children of essential workers, which was 9% higher than in the spring.
During the session, Grant touched on the challenges currently facing afterschool programs, including the need for more time, space, staff and money, and she highlighted a blueprint for success. She emphasized the importance of leveraging community resources and inclusion in planning with school districts. “It’s absolutely imperative,” she said, for state leaders to find ways to incentivize funding and make it easier to expand partnerships to offer more summer and afterschool opportunities in 2021. As policymakers divide up more federal funding, Grant claimed it needs to go to education, childcare, labor and 21st CCLC programs.
The hours from 2 to 6 p.m. are prime time for juvenile crime. —The Council for a Strong America’s ‘Fight Crime: Invest in Kids’ report
Targeted COVID-19 funding should go to learning hubs, Grant said. The hubs in San Francisco consist of 40 facilities across the city, including libraries, parks and recreation and other community centers. They prioritize serving kindergarten-to-fifth-grade students who are low income, in public housing or in the foster care system; homeless youth; and those who lack digital access. The hubs, which are staffed by experienced members of nonprofits and youth-serving organizations, help students who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and who lack of access to digital services have a better chance to catch up and keep up.
Barry Ford discussed his organization’s “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” report and its relevance to the current need for afterschool programs. Noting that 2 to 6 p.m. is the prime time for juvenile crime, Ford stressed that afterschool programs are important for youth and the safety of our communities. Research shows that quality programs can help students’ educational attainment and social-emotional development, areas Ford says will only need more support during the pandemic. The report shows that for every $1 spent on children in afterschool, there is a $3 return on investment, as the programs increase children’s performance in school and earning potential and reduce crime and welfare costs. However, for every child in afterschool, there are two who want to be but are unable to attend. Because many schools are entering this year with nontraditional schedules, Ford says, this is the time for communities to reimagine services to meet the needs of youth throughout the day.
To learn more about 21st CCLC programs, learning hubs and the “Fight Crime” report, watch the recording of the virtual meeting. For more information about NCSL’s afterschool work, visit this page.
Autumn Rivera is a research analyst with NCSL’s Education Program.