Federal afterschool policy in 2017 had ups and downs, and plenty ‘firsts.’ It was the first time a president proposed complete elimination of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative – the primary source of federal funding support for local school and community based afterschool and summer learning programs. However, 2017 also saw the largest advocacy push on record by afterschool advocates – with tens of thousands of Americans making the case for continued federal afterschool support. And the year saw a record level of funding for Community Learning Centers, providing access to programs for almost 2 million young people.
21st Century Community Learning Centers
Early in the year both the president’s “skinny budget” and final FY2018 budget proposed the elimination of all funding for Community Learning Centers. The afterschool field’s response was rapid and powerful. Afterschool allies reached out to Congress with more than 79,400 calls and emails, energized supporters to turn out at town halls in their communities, and prompted more than 1,400 local, state, and national organizations to sign a letter in support of Community Learning Centers. Champions of the program on Capitol Hill showed strong support for Community Learning Centers as well, with 81 members of the House coming together across party lines and signing a letter spear headed by Reps. David Cicilline and Lou Barletta. In addition, a perfectly-timed National Afterschool Summit at University of Southern California put afterschool all over the news and social media including coverage on CNN and Extra with Mario Lopez.
In a huge win for afterschool, the final appropriations bill for FY2017, passed in early May 2017, increased Community Learning Centers funding to $1.192 billion, a $25 million increase over the FY2016 level, and a record amount of funding for the program. The funds mean almost 2 million children in all 50 states will have access to quality, locally-run afterschool and summer learning programs. While funding for FY2018 is still uncertain as the country is operating under a continuing resolution that expires on December 22, 2017, support for Community Learning Centers in Congress remains strong.
Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century
In addition to the big win for Community Learning Centers, progress was made in positioning afterschool programs as key partner in advancing Career and Technical Education (CTE). The Afterschool Alliance celebrated the passing of H.R. 2353, Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century, in late June. The bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and provides much-needed updates to the current law, including an ability to begin pathways for youth earlier (fifth grade rather than seventh), an explicit inclusion of community-based partners as eligible entities for CTE work, and a recognition of the importance of employability skills (including science, technology, engineering, and math) and helping youth engage in non-traditional career fields. The bill would also gradually increase appropriations of the approximately $1 billion legislation by 1.38 percent each year through 2023.
Updated juvenile justice bill
On August 1, 2017, an updated juvenile justice bill (S. 860) passed the full Senate by voice vote, representing a step forward in the long-overdue reauthorization of the legislation. The full House passed their version of the bill earlier in 2017. The updates in the Senate juvenile justice bill match current knowledge on best/evidence-based practice in the field, using adolescent development-, mental health-, and trauma-informed practice and encouraging alternatives to incarceration.The bill will establish changes to enhance reporting and accountability measures. The House and Senate are conferencing to reconcile difference between the two bills, and have until December 2018 to pass a final version through both chambers.
The coming year promises to be another challenging one on the federal advocacy and policy fronts, but the energy and commitment demonstrated by afterschool advocates in 2017, as well as the passion and resilience of the young people we serve, leaves us optimistic for what the future holds.