Support for afterschool makes good political sense. A poll conducted for the Afterschool Alliance last fall found that nine in ten voters (94 percent) agree there should be some type of organized activity or place for children and teens to go after school every day that provides opportunities for them to learn. The poll found that support for afterschool was strong across all demographic and party lines.
U.S. Conference of Mayors
In a measure of the growing support, the bi-partisan U.S. Conference of Mayors rallied behind afterschool programs in June, 2004. At their 72nd annual meeting, the mayors passed a resolution calling on President Bush to increase funding for the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) afterschool initiative to $2 billion next year.
The resolution urges federal, state and local governments to increase their investment in afterschool programs because afterschool programs "provide a way for communities to reduce the risk of youth involvement in crime, violence, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and gangs" and "enhance the physical, social, emotional and moral development of youth."
John Kerry recently unveiled a plan that would provide full funding for the 21st CCLC initiative. The "School's Open 'Til 6" plan would significantly increase funding for afterschool programs, keep schools open later, and offer reliable transportation so children can get home safely.
Senator Kerry also pledged to fully fund the "No Child Left Behind Act," which would increase afterschool funding from its current $1 billion level to $2.5 billion in 2007. This would give afterschool opportunities to 3.5 million students - a significant increase from the 1.4 million children currently served by federally funded afterschool programs.
"Increasingly, candidates from both political parties recognize that afterschool is a winning issue because there is a compelling and urgent need for safe, reliable afterschool care," Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Judy Y. Samelson said. "Today in America, one in three middle school students care for themselves after school. With juvenile crime spiking between 3 and 6 PM, we all benefit when youth are in safe, learning, supervised activities."
Support from Senator Dole
In another noteworthy move, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) wrote a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee leaders in July urging them to increase funding for afterschool programs in Fiscal Year 2005.
"My request for a modest ten percent increase of $100 million would allow 140,000 more youth - 3,200 in North Carolina - the opportunity to participate," the Senator said in her letter. "It is a step in the right direction... I believe that an investment of $1.1 billion for the 21st CCLC Program is the right thing to do for our communities, for working families, and for children throughout America."
"Senator Dole has demonstrated that she is a true champion for children by asking for an increase in federal afterschool funding next year," Samelson said. "Afterschool funding has been stalled at $1 billion for four years, and millions of children are missing out on the learning opportunities and other experiences these programs provide. As an important new voice, Senator Dole's actions have helped to raise the level of debate on this vital issue in the Senate."
More information on how afterschool advocates can raise the issue in the context of elections, in a nonpartisan way, at http://www.afterschoolalliance.org. Click on the "2004 Elections Guide" button on the upper right.