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More Oversight of After-School Programs Is Needed, Says Federal Watchdog

A new report from the federal Government Accountability Office says more oversight is needed for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which receives federal funding to provide after-school and summer programs as well as other enrichment activities. 

In a report issued Wednesday titled "Education Needs to Improve Oversight of Its 21st Century Program," the GAO says the U.S. Department of Education "lacks useful data" about the impact programs have on children's attendance and discipline, even though research suggest the program helps in those areas. Federal officials also need to provide more guidance for helping states evaluate the effectiveness of these programs, the report said.

"[Education Department] officials have not substantially revised the program's performance measures since 1998, in part because its authorization lapsed from fiscal years 2008 through 2016. Leading practices in performance measurement call for federal agencies to align performance measures with program objectives," the GAO states in a summary of its report

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program has been in the news lately because President Donald Trump wants to eliminate it from the federal budget. Specifically, his preliminary fiscal 2018 budget plan would cut the $1.1 billion in federal support for 21st Century. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, criticized it for not delivering results, although advocates and others, including GOP Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, beg to differ.

In its report, the GAO indicates that the programs receiving 21st Century money tend to have a more positive effect on behavioral outcomes than on reading and math scores, but that only 26 states choose to measure either the attendance or disciplinary records of students who participate, or both. 

"In addition, [the department] has not established any performance measures for socio-emotional outcomes, although social skills are also included in program objectives, and socio-emotional learning is an important component of 21st Century implementation across states we visited," the report states. That sentiment is expressed in visual form in the chart below:

GAOAfterSchool.PNG

The report also says the department doesn't have a "reasonable assurance" that the data on the programs submitted by states are accurate, since it hasn't "independently assessed" a new online data system used for 21st Century that went online in the 2014-15 school year.

In a statement responding to the report, the Afterschool Alliance, which has lobbied in favor of the 21st Century program since the early Trump budget was released, said it agreed with several of the suggestions the GAO made. 

"The after-school community wholeheartedly agrees that the U.S. Department of Education ... is long overdue for an update to its 21st CCLC objectives and for ensuring the performance measures and data collection system it uses reflect those objectives, including by evaluating classroom behavior, school day attendance, and engagement among after-school students," said Jodi Grant, the executive director of the Afterschool Alliance.

Read the full GAO report below:


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