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After-School Advocates Tout Importance of Rural Programs, Worry About Funding Cuts

With the threat of federal cuts to after-school programs looming, after-school program advocates gathered recently to highlight the importance of that money to rural communities.

The Senate Afterschool Caucus hosted a policy briefing in July in Washington, D.C., to highlight rural out-of-school learning programs funded by 21st Century Community Learning Center grants to show the positive impact on students and communities.

We've written extensively on how some rural leaders feel as if the funding difficulties they're facing aren't getting any easier.

The Afterschool Alliance remains concerned about funding cuts to this pot of federal grant money, said Erik Peterson, policy director for the Afterschool Alliance. Rural programs in particular feel the impact because they leverage these and local, state, and private money to cover costs such as transportation.

The current fiscal year saw a cut of $60 million from the fund because of the sequester, and a 22 percent cut could become a reality at the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1, he said.

After-school programs are critical for some rural communities that lack the options and resources of urban areas. Peterson said the education conversation in the nation's capital focuses more on urban and suburban schools, so this briefing was an opportunity to showcase the effect of after-school funds in rural communities.

Some of the presenters included: Sandy Klaus, principal of Starmont Elementary in Arlington, Iowa; Jennifer Skuza, assistant dean of the Center for Youth Development at the University of Minnesota Extension in Minneapolis, Minn.; and Shelby Dettinger, a grant programs officer at World Vision Appalachia in Philippi, W. Va.

Peterson said the best piece of information that came out of the discussion was the compelling case panelists made for how rural after-school programs serve as a hub linking parents to school and community services and other parents.

"Rural communities in particular can be isolating for families, and the after-school program setting serves as a vehicle to bring families together," he said.

Going forward, he encouraged rural schools and communities to develop and improve the infrastructure needed to support these kinds of programs.

"Central to that is to pay attention to federal policy and spending decisions around 21st (Century Community Learning Center money) and educate their policymakers about the value of after-school and summer learning programs," he said.

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