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Obama Budget Embraces After-School Learning Program

As you likely know, the Obama administration released its proposed fiscal 2012 federal budget yesterday. In this time of tight budgets, the plan would actually increase funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program by $100 million to nearly $1.3 billion.

For more on the budget proposal overall, check out Alyson Klein's Politics K-12 blog post and story. As Alyson reports, the proposed budget would set aside "$77.4 billion in education funding, including $49 billion excluding Pell Grants, for fiscal year 2012. That's a roughly 4 percent increase in non-Pell discretionary funding over fiscal year 2010, the most recent budget enacted."

Over at the Afterschool Alliance, the vibe is generally positive about the president's plan, but officials there threw in a cautionary note regarding how the increased 21st Century funds should be spent:


"We are concerned about the president's plan, articulated in his budget proposal, to open 21st CCLC funds to other programs that deserve their own funding streams. 21st CCLC funds should continue to be directed to after-school, before-school, and summer programs that focus on hands-on engaged learning, and complementing and enhancing but not replicating the traditional school day," Jodi Grant, the alliance's executive director, says in a news release.

This calls to mind the back-and-forth from last summer and fall, when the Obama administration first proposed opening up the 21st Century program to support longer school days and school years, as well as after-school offerings. So, expect that debate to continue.

Of course, that's not the only debate on the horizon—and likely not the one with the highest stakes, either. The Obama plan is just one vision; there's also the GOP view. At a time of intense pressure to cut the budget and the federal deficit, what kind of opposition will a proposed hike in after-school funding face?

Consider that last week, the House Appropriations Committee released a plan that would cut $100 million (yes, the same amount as the proposed Obama increase) from the 21st Century program. The Afterschool Alliance asserts that such a cut could mean that 100,000 children lose their after-school programming.

Stay tuned. The budget battles have just begun.

UPDATE: The National Center on Time & Learning has weighed in with its own take on the president's budget. NCTL applauds the proposed funding hike, and—in a departure from the Afterschool Alliance's statement—backs the plan to open 21st Century funding to extended-learning-time options (longer school days, for example).

"Under the president's proposal, local education leaders would now have greater flexibility to choose the strategy that best meets the needs of their students—an expansion of the school day, week, or year; after-school programming; or a combination of these strategies," NCTL writes.
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