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Schwarzenegger and Paige: Why Congress should keep funding afterschool programs

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, right, praises Dr. Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education, during the 2015 National After-School Summit at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute in Los Angeles, Tuesday, March 24, 2015. Schwarzenegger joined education, business and law enforcement leaders calling on Congress to preserve federal funding for after-school programs in a proposed reauthorization of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, demanding that any bill maintains after-school funding. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The Afterschool Alliance is a nonprofit organization that works to ensure that all children have access to affordable, high-quality afterschool programs. The idea of providing programs for students to attend after the regular school day — where they can keep learning in different ways, play and stay in a safe environment — is a no-brainer, but somehow keeps falling under the radar of school reformers and policy makers. In fact, for years the Obama administration diverted money intended to be used for high-quality afterschool programs to support the expansion of learning time during school hours (which sounds useful but is often a waste of time). As alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant once wrote on this blog:

Students need more than a strong curriculum, good teachers, and time in the classroom to succeed. Afterschool programs have long known that they can embrace the hours between the time school closes and parents return from work to provide children, especially those who don’t have access to other activities, with exciting, engaging experiences that will help them learn academic, social and professional skills. The research is clear: children in quality afterschool programs are more likely to come to school and stay in school, more likely to hand in their work and get better grades.

Congress is now debating whether to continue funding afterschool programs. Here to explain why they it should are Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, and Rod Paige, a former secretary of education under president George W. Bush.

By Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rod Paige

There are more than 60,000 children who go to sleep every night in a juvenile detention center, and 2.6 million of our high school students will drop out before they ever graduate high school.

We can do better.

We both believe that education is a basic civil right for all, and that education does not end when the bell rings at the close of a school day. As the former governor of California and U.S. secretary for education, we fought to support federal funding for afterschool programs to support the lifelong learning of our children. We stood together at a summit in 2003 to fight for these programs, and now we have come together again.

Today, as Congress debates the elimination of $1 billion in critical funding for afterschool programs that could affect 1.6 million students, we are both deeply concerned and prepared to fight for these programs which help some of our most at-risk students.

Afterschool programs offer students a safe, caring environment with homework assistance, digital arts, crucially important Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning, healthy eating habits, and classes that have been squeezed from the normal school day including the arts and extracurricular activities.

These programs provide a real return on investment to taxpayers and budgets. Studies have shown that every dollar spent on afterschool programs can save anywhere from $2 to nearly $9. Spending a dollar today to avoid spending a fortune in the future on incarceration and additional classroom instruction is a deal everyone can support.

Researchers have found that students who participate in afterschool programs graduate from high school at a rate of 86 percent, while the students who don’t have access to those programs graduate at a rate of 72 percent  – and that comprehensive afterschool programs can dramatically improve math test scores.

Juvenile crimes spike between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. when kids roam the street with no adult supervision. Luckily, there is a solution. Participation in afterschool programs has been shown to decrease the likelihood of these students participating in criminal activities by 30 percent. We know that afterschool programs boost graduation rates, improve school attendance, grades and test scores, protect the health and safety of our children, and support students in at-risk and disadvantaged communities.

The benefits extend beyond the students. Working families, who are the bedrock of our economy, are able to keep their jobs and miss less work because their children are safe in afterschool programs. We have both spoken to many of these parents who tell us what a relief it is to know their kids are safe, learning, and out of trouble.

More than 10 million children already experience the benefits of afterschool programs every day, but the demand for participation is much greater—close to 20 million students would be in programs if they were available.

At a time when we should be discussing how to increase the supply of afterschool programs and their proven benefits to meet the demand, Congress is debating whether to eliminate the funding. In this crucial debate, we stand with the students, and with the strong bipartisan coalition in Congress that has expressed support for afterschool programs.

Let us be very clear: this is a crucial investment in our future. The alternative is far more expensive. In 2003 and 2013 we were successful in our fight to protect after school funding. We will be successful again. We can do better for our students, and we will.

We look forward to discussing the benefits of these programs and establishing another generation of afterschool success stories on March 24th at the important summit we are co-hosting.