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After-School Advocates Gather and Strategize

It was a busy opening day yesterday at the National Afterschool Association conference just outside Washington. One message came through loud and clear, though: Expanded learning needs powerful advocates in these difficult budget times.

Members of the Afterschool Alliance—which is holding its Afterschool for All Challenge concurrently with the NAA meeting—were planning to rally on Capitol Hill today to press for the after-school-for-all cause. Many were meeting with individual members of Congress, as well.

"You couldn't be in D.C. at a better time," Jen Rinehart, the Afterschool Alliance's vice president for policy and research, told participants at one conference session on Monday. With the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on the table now, it's crucial to make the case for expanded learning now, she said.

"There are real opportunities here, but there are also real threats," Rinehart said.

Rinehart and others at the conference were particularly concerned about what they view as a potential $13 million "cut" to federal 21st Century Community Learning Center funding for fiscal 2011. As the Obama administration's proposed fiscal 2011 budget paints it, 21st Century dollars would hold steady, but Rinehart emphasized that that same funding would also have to pay for $10 million worth of full-service community schools and $3 million in competitive grant funds that the 21st Century program doesn't have to support now. Shifting to more competitive grant-funding streams generally is a concern for expanded-learning proponents, she and others said.

At another conference session, John P. Albert of The After-School Corp. (TASC) advised that educators use multiple strategies to push for expanded learning. Place phone calls to lawmakers, visit them, e-mail form letters of support, and mail personal letters that show what expanded learning is doing for kids. "Advocacy is really merging all of these things," Albert said.

Today's Afterschool Alliance rally for after school is scheduled for 2 p.m. on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Alliance coordinators expect 600-700 educators and advocates to turn out.

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