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Obama's Budget Proposal Levels Off 21st CCLC Funds

While President Obama's fiscal 2013 budget proposal calls for an increase of $1.7 billion in funding for the Department Education, the funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program has leveled off to $1.15 billion.

As most of you know, the federal 21st CCLC program provides grants to organizations and schools to provide academically enriching programs in the out-of-school hours. Currently, 21st CCLC funds 8,900 centers that serve roughly 1.5 million students.

The budget also proposes to open 21st CCLC grants to schools that want to provide expanded learning time, or added time to their calendars for academics, enrichment, and teacher professional development to help close the achievement gap.

Expanded-learning-time advocates, like the National Center on Time & Learning, a Boston-based advocacy group, said they were pleased with the president's proposal to provide more flexibility with 21st CCLC.

"We strongly support the president's continuing commitment to expanding learning time as a powerful lever to provide high-poverty students the school time they need to succeed," said Jennifer Davis, president and co-founder of NCTL. "This budget does more than just restate the commitment to expanding learning time in previous budgets. It builds on the important work the administration is doing with states to give them more flexibility to expand learning time through the waiver process."

(The administration's recent release of waivers from NCLB requirements allow states granted waivers (10 at the moment) to use ELT as a turnaround strategy.)

But while the budget proposal keeps the 21st CCLC program "intact," some advocates are worried both about the funding levels and potential changes to what types of initiatives 21st CCLC will support in the future.

As I've highlighted in the past, here and here, there is a debate between some folks in the out-of-school time and expanded-learning communities over whether opening up the funding stream to other uses is the best idea.

"The experiment to extend the school day should be supported by new funds and informed by the after-school experience. At a time when resources are limited, funding is best spent where we know it will make a difference, said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant in a statement.

Grant also said the funding levels were insufficient to meet the needs of children when the school day is over.

Lucy Friedman, president of The After-School Corporation, TASC, a New York City-based intermediary organization focused both on after-school and expanded-learning programs, said while she was pleased the funding for 21st CCLC has remained stable, the proposal lacks the details necessary to ensure opening the funding to other uses will be effective in delivering high-quality programming.

"We think the language on 21st CCLC could be improved by assuring that if schools use these funds to expand learning time, they must do so together with a community partner using proven strategies," said Friedman. Grant recipients, she added, should use the funds to offer a range of activities and allow local decisionmakers the flexibility to choose the approach---ELT, after-school, and summer program--that best meets the needs of their students.

Jessica Donner, director of the Collaboration for Building After-School Systems, CBASS, a network of intermediary organizations, like TASC, that focus on out-of-school time, concurred with Friedman's sentiments, particularly that broadening the uses of 21st CCLC funding should be done through "proven practices."

"Programs [need to be] informed by research and best practices to ensure added time is 'not more of the same' and instead engages youth in a variety of enriching, hands-on learning experiences that inspire them," Donner said. "Now more than ever, we need to be giving students engaging education and experiences by providing more supports and more time for learning. We [also] hope, in order to fully meet the needs of children and families, funding for the 21st CCLC program is increased next year."

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