After School As After Thought

June 1, 1998

Is it possible that politicians and the grant-making class are finally grasping that strong afterschool programs provide a cornucopia of societal benefits? Perhaps. Could just keeping kids busy with positive, empowering and enjoyable youth development activities from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. really eliminate drug abuse, teen pregnancy, petty crime and worse? Of course not.

But quality afterschool programs certainly help build youth assets while curbing a mix of negative youth behaviors, and do so with more cost-effectiveness than does the current jumble of programs that policymakers unrealistically aim at a single “youth problem.” The U.S. Department of Education cites recent research indicating that good afterschool programs “reduce crime, delinquency, and victimization of children and youth.”

The building of a national system of comprehensive youth services rests on many foundations. But the ground floor is made up of the more than 50,000 programs offered to school-age children during their out-of-school time. Often woefully underfunded (an average child care worker makes $6.12 per hour, while parking lot attendants make $6.38) are an array of programs ranging from fee-for-service operations catering to the middle class, to the heavily subsidized youth clubs in low-income neighborhoods run by such groups as the YWCAs, Volunteers of America, Boys & Girls Clubs, churches and numerous unaffiliated programs. Even taken together, these programs fall far short of reaching what the Census Bureau estimates are 24 million children aged 5 to 14 who need afterschool care.

Fortunately, ever since the Carnegie Corp.’s seminal A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in the Non-School Hours was published in 1992, the steady hammering of work-in-progress has been heard throughout the youth development field. Consider the following:

A federal initiative, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, will provide $40 million in grants for community-based afterschool programs to be run in schools. Backing up the federal effort will be $55 million in training and technical assistance funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. Just in New York City, the Open Society Institute will spend $10 million on afterschool programs managed by community-based organizations.

The Beacon Schools, begun in New York in 1991, have expanded to 78 sites citywide (See Karen Pittman, page 55). The approach is now being replicated in cities such as San Francisco, Denver, and Savannah, Georgia. National groups like Save the Children and the YMCAs are reinvigorating their afterschool efforts. State-wide efforts such as North Carolina’s Support Our Students and the Georgia School Age Care Association’s The 3:00 Project are aggressively expanding.

But where are the politicians? Too many Republicans in Congress seem only interested in fighting the “mommy wars,” which are largely irrelevant to working families. Democrats, including President Clinton, seem more interested in pandering to the education lobby which, as always, wants all funds to go through public schools, leaving many of the top afterschool providers empty-handed. Even a measly 10 percent set-aside for CBOs pushed by HHS Secretary Donna Shalala was nixed by the White House. The president insists his child care package, including afterschool programs, will be paid for out of the ingeniously misnamed National Tobacco Policy and Youth Smoking Reduction Act which, were it subject to truth-in-labeling, would be called the Tobacco Farmers, Public Health Researchers and Advertising Industry Subsidy Act. But the child care spending option is now barely under consideration as Congress divvies up the expected $65 billion in expected revenue from a tobacco tax hike.

So, in order to expand federal spending on afterschool programs, here’s all that proponents, led by the Children’s Defense Fund and the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, have to do: beat off conservative attempts to just give tax breaks for stay-at-home moms and to eliminate the “marriage penalty” on middle-class taxpayers; ensure that the $21 billion for child care remains in the tobacco settlement by besting the entire public health lobby, tobacco growers and assorted other claimants; knock the political socks off of the teachers’ unions, and fend off efforts by early childhood advocates to spend every last dime on pre-K-child care.

No wonder they call it “after.”

"After School As After Thought." Youth Today, June 1998, p. 2.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.