Bringing the afterschool message to D.C.
This past week, I joined hundreds of fellow afterschool program directors, as well as afterschool students (including my daughter Emily) and other advocates from across the country spending two days in Washington, D.C., for the 11th annual Afterschool for All Challenge, sponsored by the Afterschool Alliance. I was there to learn from and share with colleagues and also to bring a message to members of Congress about the importance of making sure our children get the support they need in the out-of-school-time hours.
As the director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line, I know from first-hand experience what a difference afterschool programs can make in the lives of our children. And when I got to Capitol Hill, I tried to share my experiences with lawmakers and their staff. In fact, my afterschool colleagues from around that state and I spent a full day in Senate and House offices, during which time we met with Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus as well as Rep. Dennis Rehberg.
The overall theme of this year's Afterschool for All Challenge was "Transforming Research into Action." Indeed, years of research have demonstrated that afterschool programs work, supporting a wide range of positive outcomes for kids, families and communities. We believe that by educating lawmakers about how afterschool programs keep kids safe, inspire students to learn and help working families, we will have a chance to secure the funding afterschool programs need so that they can continue to provide vital services to the community, and to the rest of Montana and the nation. That was a message our lawmakers needed to hear, and we were proud to deliver it!
Unfortunately, many afterschool programs and school districts are struggling. We are serving more and more students with fewer and fewer resources. Research from the Afterschool Alliance, sponsored by J.C. Penney, found that the parents of more than 18 million children not already in afterschool programs say they would sign their kids up if a program were available to them locally. That's exactly the problem, of course: not enough programs to meet demand.
President Barack Obama's recent budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 would hold funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative — the principal federal funding stream for afterschool — steady. That's good news, given budget pressures and the tough financial climate. Unfortunately, the proposal would also allow 21st CCLC grants to be used for programs that don't provide afterschool.
It's important not to divert 21st CCLC funds to other programs. We must make sure sufficient funding goes to afterschool, before school and summer programs. High-quality afterschool programs like ours focus on hands-on, engaged learning that complements and enhances but does not replicate the traditional school day. No other programs out there are similarly focused.
The long and the short of it is that we need a stronger federal investment in afterschool, not a diluted one.
For the past nine months, I've been fortunate to have the chance to serve as one of the Afterschool Alliance's Afterschool Ambassadors, one of 19 such ambassadors chosen across 17 states this year. The trip to Washington was exactly what the program was about: learning from my colleagues in the afterschool field, and sharing what we know about the value of afterschool with policymakers, and with potential supporters in the community, including community organizations and various businesses.
In doing this work, we're lucky to have such an extraordinarily strong case to make. The research documenting the value of afterschool programs is deep, thorough and unmistakable. And the testimonials from kids and their parents are in abundance. Where we're not so lucky is that funding pressures are taking a severe toll on programs for kids.
I'm hoping that our members of Congress heard the message and understand its importance. For the million-plus children and families across the nation who rely on afterschool programs, the stakes couldn't be higher.
(Tim Brurud is director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line.)