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Statewide Networks Voice Concerns About 21st Century's Fate

I spent a very interesting day yesterday attending a meeting of the National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks, a group funded by the Mott Foundation to build support for school-linked, after-school programs among top decisionmakers.

In addition to being an incredibly welcoming group to guest speakers, the participants in the 2010 Network Lead Meeting are a well-informed bunch with hard questions about numerous topics, including the intensely debated future of the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

One meeting session I found particularly interesting involved mayoral summits. Apparently, the National League of Cities offers small grants to statewide networks that want to partner with a mayor—or mayors—in their state to pull together meetings on the after-school cause. The idea is to open doors to new relationships within a state in support of high-quality expanded learning, the league's Bela Shah Spooner said. In the process, she and colleague Audrey Hutchinson said, summits between local and state officials help create new "champions" for high-quality after-school initiatives.

Much talk at the meeting also centered on the 21st Century learning centers, and whether, as the current Senate appropriations bill proposes, the centers program would be expanded to include efforts to lengthen the school day and year, and not focus on after school, before school, and summer school only.

I shared my insights with the group, which included my perception of the Obama administration's focus on terms such as "innovation" and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's repeated statements that the current American school day is too short. But in lengthening it, the secretary has said, schools shouldn't just add more of the same things they do the first six hours of the school day. In my humble opinion, this seems like a crucial intersection point between after-school and extended learning time (longer school day). But many of the attendees at the meeting raised concerns that a broader community centers program would end up sending much more money to more expensive efforts to lengthen school days and leave little funding left for after school.

Of course, the fate of the appropriations bill will remain unresolved until Congress returns from its mid-term elections break. In the meantime, I have no doubt that the bright people from the Statewide Afterschool Networks will do everything they can to make their voices heard on 21st Century on Capitol Hill and back home.

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