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Return on Investment in Expanded Learning More Than Double for Vermont

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It's hard to place a dollar amount on the value of expanded learning, but Vermont ran the numbers and the return beat the best of the blue-chip stocks. For every tax dollar the state invests in quality after-school and summer-learning programs, it gets back $2.18 in benefits, according to a report and financial analysis of expanded learning time from the state's PreK-16 Council.

The Council created a working group last June to evaluate the state's need for high-quality expanded learning programs and recommend ways to increase access, especially as a means of closing the academic achievement gap.  Council members will be presenting the findings later this month to Vermont's State Board of Education and joint sessions of the legislature's House and Senate education, human services, and health and welfare committees.

The primary purpose of the report is to provide research that policymakers can use to make informed decisions about where to invest education funds to get the biggest academic returns for students and the state, said Holly Morehouse, a member of the working group and the executive director of Vermont Afterschool, Inc., which conducted the return-on-investment research.

"We have an answer in front of us. We know that if you invest in, let's say, just summer-learning opportunities, we know that you're going to make gains in preventing summer-learning loss and you're going to make gains in reducing the academic achievement gap," said Morehouse. "We need to find a way to be able to allocate dollars and spend money to make sure that all kids have access to that answer.  The research is there and the experience in Vermont is there."

Of Vermont's 90,205 public school students, 8,676 attend high-quality expanded learning programs, and parents give them high marks. In October, when the Afterschool Alliance released America After 3PM, a national study of after-school programs that Education Week wrote about here, Vermont ranked seventh in the nation in parent satisfaction. But that top-ten plaudit is offset by a huge gap in availability. The working group estimates that another 22,000 children would be enrolled tomorrow if they had access to high-quality, affordable programs.

Morehouse said that disparity provided the essential questions for the working group, "What's the cost of doing nothing? What if we don't change anything in Vermont?" That led them to consider the flip side of the question, "What is the return on investment for every dollar that you spent [on high quality after school and summer programs]?  How much do you save down the line?"

Using funding levels from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants as a guide, researchers determined that it costs $2,318 per student to run high-quality after-school or summer-learning programs. The report defines quality based on the state's STep Ahead Recognition System (STARS). They then weighed the costs against savings to the state from the long- and short-term benefits of high-quality expanded learning: crime prevention and lower incarceration rates, a drop in drug and alcohol abuse, fewer teen pregnancies, and increased high school graduation rates that put more students on track for college leading to higher-paying jobs and—wait for it—bigger contributions to the tax base.

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