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Groups Back Expanding 21st Century Learning Centers

An assortment of education groups is urging Congress to make funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program flexible and open to expanded school day schedule initiatives, as well as after-school and summer school efforts.

Only a few weeks ago, you may recall, a Senate subcommittee approved a plan to expand funding for the program, as well as the scope of the CCLC to include support for expanded school days and years, along with after-school and summer programs.

Today, 18 groups, including the National Center on Time & Learning, the National Summer Learning Association, the Council of the Great City Schools, and the American Association of School Administrators, wrote in support of the plan.

"Providing school and community leaders greater flexibility and choice in how they use CCLC dollars, which are currently limited to activities during nonschool hours, is critical to supporting their efforts to improve student achievement," the groups write.

You may remember, however, that, in late July, when the Senate appropriations subcommittee voted for the plan, the Afterschool Alliance issued a statement opposing the language. "We need to protect funding for after-school and summer learning programs—not divert it," Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant wrote.

Their opposition stands. In an interview yesterday, Grant said she felt after-school and expanded-learning-time proponents were being pitted against one another and that after-school programs could lose out in battles over CCLC funds. "This is not a place we wanted to be," she said. After-school enrichment initiatives are "known, proven, and working." Supporting expanded-learning time through funding of expanded-learning pilots makes sense, "but not at the expense of something that's working," Grant added.

Jennifer Davis, the president of the National Center on Time & Learning, sees things differently. The Obama administration, as well as Sen. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who chairs the education appropriations subcommittee, have advocated giving communities more options to explore longer school days and years, she said. Expanding the school calendar and providing enriching after-school activities are not mutually exclusive, she added. "It doesn't have to be either/or," Davis said. "We're talking about educational improvement. ... There are opportunities in communities to bring resources together."

Stay tuned. I obviously need to chat with many more players in the education community and on Capitol Hill to see where things go next.

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