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Senate Bill Keeps After-School and Community Schools in ESEA

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The U.S. Senate protected federal funding for after-school programs and restored the full-service community schools grants on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that it passed on Thursday.

The Senate bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, maintains a dedicated funding stream for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which is the largest federal source of before- and after-school funding.

The bill leaves the specific dollar amount up in the air. As with all programs in the Senate ESEA bill, the community-learning centers program is authorized to receive "such sums as may be necessary for each of fiscal years 2016 through 2021," explained Joel Packer, a consultant with the Washington-based Raben Group and the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, an advocacy group.

The CCLC program's current funding level is $1.15 billion, but the Senate appropriations committee voted to reduce that by $117 million for the next fiscal year.  The Washington-based Afterschool Alliance said at least 117,000 students may lose their spots if that cut goes through. The program serves nearly 1.7 million students in all.

The alliance's vice president for policy, Erik Peterson, said the organization will "continue to advocate for [the] current funding level, or an increase when possible."

As we reported here earlier this week, in the other chamber of Congress, the House of Representatives' ESEA reauthorization, known as the Student Success Act, calls for eliminating CCLC altogether, along with 19 other education programs.

The Senate reauthorization bill also provides specific funding for after-school programs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), under an amendment introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., the co-chairwoman of the Senate STEM Caucus.

The Senate's reauthorization also includes two amendments from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to promote community schools, which bring together public and private resources to help students and families in underserved neighborhoods.  One amendment would allow existing community schools to use some of their funds to hire resource coordinators to develop and manage the community and school partnerships.

The other amendment creates a new dedicated grant program to support schools that want to convert to the community school model.

"Challenges at home can undermine classroom performance and leave students struggling to keep up," Brown said, in a written statement. "Community schools have a proven track record of connecting students and their families to critical services. This amendment will help expand this model so more students can access essential resources like medical care and after-school care."

The current Full Service Community Schools Program is a discretionary grant program in the Fund for the Improvement of Education, but the Senate's ESEA bill eliminated FIE's authorization. A separate amendment is the only way to continue the community schools program.

The House bill does not contain a similar amendment. It "walks away from the challenging issues in students' lives - toxic stress, lack of opportunity, mobility, for example - that research tells us impede their ability to thrive," said Martin Blank, director of the Coalition for Community Schools, in Washington, D.C.

The Senate and House will try to work out the differences in their reauthorization bills in a conference committee.

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