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Further Debate Over the Future of 21st CCLC Looms

Recently proposed legislation that would streamline the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, along with 58 others, into federal funding block grants has some after-school advocates biting their nails.

The Senate bill, called the "Empowering Local Educational Decision Making Act," sponsored by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), would combine funding from 59 existing funding streams into two pots: the Fund for Improvement of Teaching and Learning and the Safe and Healthy Students Block Grant. States and districts would then have flexibility to use the money at their discretion to support initiatives under the two corresponding umbrella categories: improving teacher, principal, and classroom quality and improving student wellness, health, and safety.

Many after-school and extended-learning advocates are worried the consolidation would pull substantial funding that supports after-school programs to others. The 21st CCLC program currently funds 8,900 centers that serve roughly 1.5 million students at about $1.1 billion annually.

The $1.1 billion allocation would be roughly 75 percent of the total funding for the new block grant (predicted to be $1.4 billion), according to one estimate. This is of concern, given that the block grant would also have to be used to support a number of other programs that were once funded with as many as 24 different funding streams, said one source.

But, according to the bill's authors, the new legislation would provide more freedom for states and districts to determine the best needs of their communities, including funding new and existing after-school programs.

"States and local school districts have lost flexible federal funding sources that allow them and not the latest fad to determine how best to allocate federal funding resources to meet the unique and specific needs of their individual students in their states and districts," a brief released by the senators who drafted the bill says.

This bill is one of many Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bills. As you may remember, last month I wrote an article about some of this legislation that impacts 21st CCLC and has caused debate in the OST realm.

According to the Collaborative for Building After-School Systems, a coalition of 10 leaders from some of the largest out-of-school-time organizations in the country, the new bill couldn't have come at a worse time, as many in the field are trying to work out the kinks and come to a consensus on the recent proposals referenced in my article.

CBASS members Jennifer Peck, executive director of the Partnership for Children and Youth, and Lucy Friedman, president of The After-School Corporation (TASC), are expected to file a column tomorrow in the Huffington Post that expand on some of the group's points.

Update: Link to Huffington Post piece here.

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