By Kelly D. Drummond, Tennessee’s Afterschool Ambassador
It has been nearly 14 years since Congress last updated federal education policy. Late 2015, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and, with it, some important new policies affecting afterschool programs in Tennessee and across the nation. Afterschool programs are a small part of the overall legislation, but they are no small part of our community. Tennessee is in the list of top 10 states for afterschool, with a high percentage of high-needs students served by afterschool programs. More than half of Tennessee’s children in afterschool programs qualify for the Federal Free or Reduced Price Lunch Program. According to the Afterschool Alliance, the low percentage of children unsupervised after school as well as the high number of parents extremely satisfied with their afterschool program overall also contribute to Tennessee’s number nine spot. Although the percentage of children participating in afterschool programs in Tennessee increased 5 percentage points from 2009 to 2014, the state remains in the middle of the pack regarding afterschool program participation and has more than a quarter of a million children not in an afterschool program who would be enrolled if one were available.
The new ESSA legislation renews and strengthens the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative for at least another four years. This is the principal federal funding stream for afterschool and summer learning programs in Tennessee, providing grants that allow more than 1 million children across the nation to attend afterschool programs. Among other things, the law encourages innovative, hands-on learning, and adds a stronger focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM, which is something that afterschool programs are uniquely suited to deliver. The law also encourages afterschool programs to beef up their offerings in financial literacy, workforce development, environmental studies, physical activity and nutrition education.
The law’s afterschool provisions will create opportunities for students to be safe and constructively engaged in the afternoons. Their parents will be able to keep working in the afternoons, confident that their children are well cared for. More children will get homework help, be inspired by hands-on STEM learning, have opportunities for physical activity, and more.
But the new law also frames a challenge. Federal dollars are limited, and afterschool programs are already strained to their capacity. This means programs will need to find new resources, and earn more support from existing sources to make good on ESSA’s promise. So, as a Boys & Girls Clubs in Tennessee afterschool provider, my resolution for the New Year is to renew the push for more resources to serve our children. To supplement what many parents pay in fees, the afterschool world will be looking for more support from school districts, local and state governments, as well as charities and business partners. We have a ways to go before every child who needs an afterschool program can have one. The new law offers hope for a new day for afterschool. Let’s all work together to be sure it arrives.
Kelly Drummond, with Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley, is a TN Afterschool Network Steering Committee member and was selected earlier this school year by the Afterschool Alliance to serve as an Afterschool Ambassador for Tennessee.