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Journal Times editorial: After-school programs work and should be funded

Journal Times editorial: After-school programs work and should be funded

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The explanation we’re given for President Donald Trump’s proposal to eliminate funding for after-school programs is that they haven’t shown results; “we can’t prove that’s happening,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said March 16.

We could not disagree more with Mr. Mulvaney. It has been proven that it is happening.

A two-year longitudinal Study of Promising After-School Programs examined the effects of participation in quality after-school programs among almost 3,000 youth in 35 elementary and middle school after-school programs located in 14 cities and eight states, the Harvard Family Research Project reported in February 2008. Elementary and middle school students who participated in high-quality after-school programs, alone or in combination with other activities, across two years demonstrated significant gains in standardized math test scores when compared to their peers who were regularly unsupervised after school. Further, regular participation in after school programs was associated with improvements in work habits and task persistence.

A study of California’s after-school programs published in 2002 by the University of California-Irvine found that participating students demonstrated increased achievement, regular attendance, good behavior, and a reduction in grade retention. Those at-risk students in the lowest quartile on standardized test scores and English-language learners showed the greatest improvement. Students also showed improved social skills and behavior which resulted in fewer disciplinary incidents at school and fewer suspensions. There was a 53.4 percent decrease in retention in the primary grades associated with the program.

Amber May, programs director of Operation Shoestring, a nonprofit in central Mississippi, works with Lanier High School in Jackson, Miss., on an after-school program for teens. May told USNews.com in 2014 that typically 100 percent of the students in Lanier’s after-school program, which has about 125 participants, graduate. The school typically graduates about 65 percent of its seniors – significantly below the nationwide graduation rate of about 80 percent.

Right here in Racine County: According to data from the Racine Unified School District, students in the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, on average, show greater growth in math and reading than students not in the program. For example, in reading, students in the program at Mitchell Elementary School on average achieve 23 percent more growth than students not in the program. At Mitchell Middle School: 56 percent greater. In math, Gilmore Middle School students in the program had 56 percent more growth.

In the most recent data available, the state Department of Public Instruction reports that 76 percent of the participants in after-school programs were from economically disadvantaged families, and 60 percent were students of color. Among participating students, 73 percent improved their academic performance.

If we’re serious about wanting to reduce the number of Americans dependent upon government assistance, we should continue to fund programs that have been shown to improve children’s performance in school. The better educated a child is, the more likely it is that he or she will grow up to be a productive member of society, one not dependent on government assistance.

We urge Racine County’s congressman, House Speaker Paul Ryan, to ensure that funding for after-school programs is maintained in the 2018 fiscal-year budget.

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