Home Education Upcoming Conclusion of Pandemic School Aid Could Threaten After-School Programs

Upcoming Conclusion of Pandemic School Aid Could Threaten After-School Programs

162
0

Fifth-grader Andreana Campbell and third-grader Kewon Wells spend their after-school hours tending to a garden box at Eugene Field Elementary School in Tulsa, Okla. Engaged in the hands-on activity, Kewon excitedly tries some kale straight from the plant, prompting a playful admonition from Andreana about washing it first.

At this after-school program, each participant receives their own garden box to cultivate, decorate, plant, and harvest throughout the school year. However, the future of such programs, including the one at Eugene Field, is uncertain as they heavily rely on federal pandemic-era relief funds known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, which are set to expire this fall.

Erik Peterson, senior vice president for policy at the nonprofit Afterschool Alliance, warns that the conclusion of ESSER funds may lead to the closure of numerous after-school programs across the country. Afterschool Alliance’s analysis revealed that $8.1 billion in ESSER funds were spent on after-school and summer programs across 6,300 school districts, benefiting approximately 4 million additional students.

Peterson emphasizes the need for diverse funding sources to sustain the after-school programming momentum facilitated by temporary federal funds. However, even with efforts to secure alternative funding, it’s unlikely to match the level of support previously provided by the federal government.

In Tulsa, many afterschool programs, supported by organizations like The Opp, flourished due to ESSER funds, but their future hangs in the balance once the funding expires. These programs offer myriad benefits beyond academic support, fostering relationships with adults, developing crucial skills, and providing a safe environment for continued learning after school hours.

However, prioritizing state funding for after-school opportunities over in-school needs presents challenges, especially when lawmakers’ focus lies elsewhere, such as teacher recruitment and retention initiatives.

Despite the proven positive impact of after-school programs, policymakers and donors may overlook their significance due to misconceptions about their efficacy. Yet, testimonials from Tulsa Public Schools highlight tangible improvements in student performance attributed to afterschool engagement, underscoring the value of these programs.

At Eugene Field Elementary, amidst the uncertainty surrounding funding, students immerse themselves in a hands-on cooking activity, making carrot-top pesto spread. The joy and camaraderie experienced in this after-school session underscore the invaluable role these programs play in students’ lives, beyond academic enrichment.