This afternoon, while the Texas Legislature is busy debating important public policy, our students will leave school for the day. But where will they go?
About 880,000 Texas students are currently involved in after-school programs at their school, community center or local nonprofit, where they engage in tutoring and homework help, enrichment and fun, and physical activity.
Unfortunately, these opportunities aren’t available to many of our students. According to a recent survey, an additional 1.5 million Texas youth would participate in an after-school program if one were available in their community.
Over 935,000 Texas schoolchildren are unsupervised in the critical hours after school, when experimentation with substances and sex is most common. The hours of 3 to 6 p.m. are also the peak period during the day for juvenile crime.
The problem isn’t just after school, though. Summer is also a critical time for youth development. Working parents across the state will scramble in the coming months to find something productive for their kids to do over the summer, with potentially dire consequences if they don’t. Data show that economically disadvantaged students experience “summer learning loss” — falling behind in academics over the summer — at higher rates than their peers who have access to museums, camps, travel and other educational activities during those months. Because some programs charge fees, many students are left out simply because their families cannot afford them. Federal dollars are serving some low-income students, but not nearly enough to keep up with the demand.
Philanthropists realize the potential of “expanded learning opportunities” during after-school hours and in the summer, which is why private foundations like the Andy Roddick Foundation and the J.J. Watt Foundation are investing in this so-called third learning space between school and home.
But despite continually unmet demand and positive academic outcomes, current public and private investments in after-school and summer programs are simply not enough. Federal funding for these programs, which is already unable to meet the growing demand, is at risk. Local governments and private philanthropy have been working to fill in gaps, but they can’t do it alone. The state of Texas has a much bigger role to play in ensuring that these programs are available, affordable and high quality.
The Texas Legislature created the Texas Expanded Learning Opportunities Council in 2013 to address critical times for learning outside the school day. The 13-member council includes teachers, school district officials, after-school and summer program providers, parents, and business and philanthropy representatives from across the state. Their report published last fall found that high-caliber expanded learning opportunities during the hours after school and in the summer result in better educational outcomes and safer communities. In fact, decades of research links participation in after-school programs with academic gains, including closing the achievement gap between low-income students and their high-income classmates and addressing summer learning loss. In light of this overwhelming evidence, the council has recommended an Expanded Learning Opportunities Initiative so that more Texas students can benefit from programs outside the traditional school day.
The Texas Legislature should carefully consider the council’s recommendation and adopt the Expanded Learning Opportunities Initiative rider, which would create a competitive grant program at the Texas Education Agency while providing training and technical assistance, statewide coordination, and evaluation to make sure the programs are high quality and dollars are spent wisely.
It’s time to supplement existing public and private investments in after-school and summer programs with state funding to help more underserved Texas students access the expanded learning opportunities they deserve.