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The Capitol, Washington, D.C.
The Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Despite the rhetoric coming out of Washington, D.C. about the American Dream, the proposed budget released by President Trump’s administration would have a harmful effect on the nation’s most disadvantaged students.

The fight for equity will be dealt a serious blow if Congress does not reject this proposal, for fiscal 2019, which reduces overall education discretionary spending by billions of dollars, including the elimination of 29 programs within the U.S. Department of Education.

Among the programs being eliminated are the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC), which fund before-school, after-school and summer learning programs that provide vital services and enrichment opportunities for 1.7 million students. The proposal also eliminates the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), which administers AmeriCorps, among other programs, and places caring adults in schools nationwide. If enacted, these two cuts alone would severely impact the ability of Communities In Schools (CIS) and other youth-serving organizations to deliver services to children most in need. But beyond their impact on organizations like mine, these cuts reach into the lives of America’s most at-risk youth and forever short-change their futures.

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After-school programs rely on 21st CCLC funding to provide academic enrichment opportunities that complement the regular school day, including science, engineering, and math (STEM) programs, one-on-one support, mentoring, art and music as well as drug and violence prevention and more. The administration justifies the cut by claiming that the “program lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement, in part because just two-fifths of program participants attend on a regular basis (defined as 30 days per school year, or roughly one day a week).”

“We owe it to our most vulnerable youth populations to support them in overcoming the adult-sized challenges they face.”

According to the Department of Education’s most recent report on 21st CCLC, 40.2 percent of the students served by these programs are the most regular academic year attendees.  Yet, this analysis is somewhat disingenuous. What the proposal fails to mention is that an additional 14.9 percent of students in the 21st CCLC are summer attendees, while 9.9 percent of the people served are adults or family members.

Beyond these data points, there is evidence that summer programs are an effective way to engage low-income youth, and promising evidence that two-generation approaches (serving both students and adults in their lives) are beneficial as well. The President’s budget does not account for these important data points, nor does it recognize recent evidence demonstrating the impact of 21st CCLC  on improving academic and other outcomes for youth.

Notably, Congress did not agree with this same proposal when the president recommended it last year. Members from both sides of the aisle restored funding when the administration proposed eliminating the program. The public sides with Congress. A 2017 Quinnipiac poll found that 83 percent of American voters opposed cutting funding for after-school and summer programs.

Most importantly, many of our youth who rely on these programs every day know the impact that they can have on their lives. In Charleston, South Carolina, Sean, one of our CIS students, struggled academically and behaviorally after the death of his mother. His CIS site coordinator introduced him to the school’s after-school program, believing that it would help change his trajectory in school. His grades improved.  Sean reported, “I worked harder, I asked for help, I started to feel happy again. I wanted to be somebody. My family was so proud of me when I brought home my first report card of mostly B’s.”

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In his budget summary, President Trump said that “many of America’s poorest children — especially African American and Hispanic children — attend failing public schools that afford them little hope of fulfilling their great potential” The Department of Education itself reports that 56.7 percent of students participating in 21st CCLC funded programs are children of color and 67 percent meet the Department’s definition of low income. These programs are proven to help students like Sean achieve their full potential in school and in life.

In addition to relying on 21st CCLC funds, our 131 CIS affiliates and many of their partners use volunteers funded through CNCS. The additional adults in our schools provided through AmeriCorps, and the availability of needed enrichment programming both before and after school, help students who otherwise might fall through the cracks. Their presence speaks volumes to kids and allows teachers to focus on their core mission of academic instruction.

We know that this type of support works. Communities In Schools serves more than 1.5 million students in more than 2,300 schools across the nation. In the most recent school year for which data is available, 99 percent of CIS case-managed students stayed in school, 94 percent were promoted to the next grade, 93 percent graduated or received a GED and 88 percent improved their academics.

The president and his administration cannot argue that they are “…protecting our nation’s most vulnerable students,” while cutting funding to programs that those vulnerable students rely on. A great nation cannot pick and choose among its people. Congress must restore funding for these critical education programs, particularly those that allow our school-based staff to connect students with critical resources including academic assistance, meals, mentoring, college and career readiness coaching, as well as physical and enrichment activities. We owe it to our most vulnerable youth populations to support them in overcoming the adult-sized challenges they face.

Dale Erquiaga is the president and CEO of Communities In Schools, a national network of nonprofits working inside K-12 district and charter schools to connect at-risk students with the community resources.

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