A prime time for learning
By ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
Those three students all participate in After-School All-Stars programs in Nevada. There are millions more like them in after-school programs all over the country who are improving their grades in reading and math, attending school more regularly and getting involved in exciting extracurricular activities while their parents are at work.
As founder of the ASAS, which now provides programs in 15 cities serving 92,000 children, and as honorary chair of the Afterschool Alliance, the nation’s leading voice for after-school programs, I’ve seen firsthand what reams of data have proven: These programs do remarkable things for our children, families and communities.
There is a large and growing body of evidence showing that comprehensive after-school programs help inspire kids to learn and help working families. They also give children a safe place to be in the afternoon hours when school is out and parents are still at work. They put that time to good use, helping kids with their homework; teaching them teamwork; engaging them in community service; pairing them with mentors; giving them the chance to get — and stay — physically fit; turning them on to 21st-century professions through rocketry and robotics; introducing them to community partners, including business and religious leaders — and much more. While the national dropout rate for students attending low-income schools is 50 percent, in 2012 95 percent of students who participated in ASAS’s CampUS program matriculated on time to the 10th grade and are on track to graduate high school.
It’s not just kids who love after-school programs. They’re also wildly popular with parents, law enforcement, employers and educators. That’s why in 2002, by an overwhelming majority, California voters passed the After School Education and Safety Act to guarantee funding for local after-school programs. It is by far the largest state-funded after-school initiative in the nation, and it has helped make after-school programs widely available throughout California.
After-school programs are a boon to our nation. President Bill Clinton worked with Congress to create the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative, the chief federal funding stream for after-school programs. It’s been highly effective, funding state grants to local after-school, before-school and summer programs across the country.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that we don’t have nearly enough programs to meet the need. A comprehensive study commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance found that while 8.4 million children are in programs, another 18 million kids would be enrolled by their parents if programs were available to them — but too often, they aren’t. We’re barely scratching the surface of meeting the need and demand for after-school programming.
One reason for the shortfall is that the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative lacks the funds it needs to meet the huge demand, and states, cities, businesses and private philanthropies simply cannot make up the difference.
Worse, even the current, inadequate federal funding for after-school programs is now at risk from some leaders who want to redirect these funds to other projects. I have long believed that funding for after-school programs should be seen as an investment, not a cost. The research backs me up. Every dollar invested in after-school programs results in a $3 return in the form of reduced crime, improved student performance and reduced social services costs.
Just look at the numbers. Juvenile crime spikes between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on school days. Students in after-school programs are 30 percent less likely to engage in criminal activity, 49 percent less likely to use drugs and 37 percent less likely to become teen parents.
We need to do more, not less, to help our children use the after-school hours wisely by giving them opportunities for hands-on, engaged learning in the afternoons. We have a very simple choice: spend a dollar today to protect the endless potential of our nation’s children or spend much more down the road after we’ve failed them so that we can use the money for the priorities of adults.
I know where I stand, and I hope our leaders will stand with me.
The experiences of Luke, Nadia and Axel are testimony to the power of after-school programs to open doors and transform lives outside the confines of the regular school day. The opportunities they’ve had in the afternoon hours should be the rule, not the exception.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a former governor of California.