One of the most serious and most persistent challenges confronting policymakers is presenting a balanced budget. The means to this end are usually what define our political allegiances; should we cut spending? Should we raise taxes? While we may not always agree on the perfect way to balance a budget, either side of the political aisle should be able to recognize a good investment.
National research shows that after-school programs keep kids safe, inspire learning, and support working families. An evaluation of state-funded programs in Connecticut found that students participating in the programs had better school day attendance and a lower rate of disciplinary infractions than students in the school districts where the programs were located (University of Connecticut, 2014).
Of the students we surveyed that participate in Co-Op After School, in New Haven, 31 percent of students say that the after-school program is the reason they come to school. What’s more, 74 percent of parents surveyed in Connecticut said that after-school programs help working parents keep their jobs, and 86 percent of Connecticut parents support public funding for after-school programs (America After 3PM, 2014).
In the state of Connecticut, 213,766 students would participate in an after-school programming if one were provided for them. Despite the need, less than half of these students are given the opportunity. In fact, more children are on their own in the hours after school (109,150) than who actually participate in after school programs (99,710). 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC), a federal source of funding serving children in high-poverty and low-performing schools, paints a grim picture. Despite the fact that 148,142 students are eligible to participate, only 8,966 attend, largely due to limited federal funding. Comparing the number of students served using federal dollars (8,966) to the overall need in the state (213,766), only 4 percent of Connecticut’s students receive access to this sorely needed resource.
At Dwight Hall at Yale, we’ve been lucky enough to receive funding from the state to run after school programs and are able to run the programs with minimal overhead. College students spend thousands of hours each semester bolstering our programs while gaining meaningful experience and serving as a low-cost addition to program staff. We are even more fortunate to build relationships with foundations like the Marie and John Zimmermann Fund, who clearly see that after-school programming is an investment worth making. Still, foundations do not grow on trees and despite our ability to run low-cost programs, continued budget cuts make it difficult for any program to plan for its longevity.
After-school programs are needed to provide Connecticut students a safe and supervised space, to keep them involved in academic enrichment activities that create lifelong learners, and to support working the families who drive this state. If fortunate programs like ours are forced to make difficult decisions, how are other programs going to continue providing this valuable resource?
Investment in quality after-school programs is needed now more than ever to support a stable and equitable future for all in Connecticut.