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Slight Gains Set Aside for Extended Learning in Federal Education Budget

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Describing it as a bright spot in the new federal education budget might be a stretch, but funding for extended-learning programs was one of the few increases in the fiscal year 2015 spending plan.

The overall discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Education in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 is $67.14 billion, a decrease of $166 million—about a quarter of 1 percent—from FY 2014.

However, Congress appropriated $1.15 billion to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants, which fund after-school programs for children who attend high-poverty, low-performing schools. Sure, it's a fraction of 1 percent over the FY 2014 appropriation, but it's still a sign of progress, said David Goldberg, the vice president of national policy for the National Center on Time and Learning

After being '"in an environment for a number of years now where we've been fighting off cuts," Goldberg told Education Week, even nominal increases are "significant positives that will give stability to the programs and allow states and districts to stay on course for adding more time for high-poverty schools."

The bill also would maintain funding for School Improvement Grants (SIG) at $506 million, and Promise Neighborhoods at $57 million, both of which can be used to provide expanded-learning opportunities for students attending the poorest schools.

total ED discretionary FY 15.png

Still, it's not enough money, especially given the demand, noted Erik Peterson, a vice president for policy at the Afterschool Alliance

"There are two students who would like to be in after-school programs for every one currently being served," said Peterson in an email to Education Week, citing findings from "America After 3PM," a report released by his organization in October, and covered by Education Week.

With Congress expected to finally take up the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the next session, Peterson said "it will be critical to highlight the unique nature and strong outcomes of out-of-school-time programs in contributing towards student success both in school and in life."

But chances are slim that federal extended-learning programs will see anything more than marginal increases. Nondefense discretionary spending is capped under sequestration caps in effect at least through FY 21, explained Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding.  He said that leaves no room for anything to grow without cutting something else.

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