After-school program could get short-term funding boost

A federal after-school program could get a funding boost for the remainder of the current fiscal year, a sign advocates say bodes well for the program for the 2018 fiscal year.

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A federal after-school program could get a funding boost for the remainder of the current fiscal year, a sign advocates say bodes well for the program for the 2018 fiscal year.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program provides funding for before- and after-school and summer programs. It targets students in high-poverty and low-performing schools and serves about 6,000 students in Hawaii, including more than 1,000 on the Big Island.

In March, President Donald Trump proposed to cut the $1.2 billion program in FY 2018 altogether. Trump said the program “lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.”

His proposal spurred the Afterschool Alliance, a national after-school care advocacy group, to write to members of Congress last month urging them to retain the funding.

On Sunday, the U.S. House released a $1.07 trillion omnibus spending bill that actually increases funding by $25 million for the 21st Century program for the remainder of the current fiscal year.

Congress must pass the measure in the coming days to avoid a federal government shutdown Friday. The Alliance said in an email announcement Monday “everyone expects that to happen this week” because the bill received agreement between Democrats, Republicans and the White House.

“This is great news because it’s a good trend we’re having,” Paula Adams, executive director of Hawaii’s Afterschool Alliance, said Monday. “Not only did Democrats approve of the budget, but Republicans agreed, too. So to have that agreement is important to us. What we’re hoping is, as we’re working on the 2018 budget, they will include the 21st Century (program) and maybe even increase the budget.”

In its letter to Congress, the Alliance refuted Trump’s assessment of the 21st Century program as ineffective, claiming its participants earn better grades and have lowered incidences of drug use, violence and pregnancy.

The Alliance has since released more information and research to help demonstrate the program’s value, Adams said.

Nationally, about 57,000 after-school advocates called members of Congress since Trump’s budget preview was unveiled, according to information on the Alliance’s website, and more than 1,400 organizations signed a letter in support of the program.

“I don’t know where (Trump) got that information or who is advising him on education, but a lot of research shows these programs are working and they are effective,” Adams said.

Hawaii schools received about $5.7 million to implement the 21st Century program for the current school year. About $1 million of that went to 12 schools on the Big Island, largely in the Kailua-Kona area and Waimea.

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The 2018 budget will take effect Oct. 1, the start of the federal government’s new fiscal year.

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.