- The U.S. Department of Education is distributing $50 million to states to add or improve extracurricular, after-school and summer programming for middle and high school students, according to a letter sent to state education officers Thursday.
- The supplemental grant award — provided by the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — is being automatically sent to states through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. The extra money is being distributed based on the program's FY 2022 formula.
- Chronic absenteeism, a problem even before the pandemic, increased for students at all levels in the past few years, sparking efforts to boost student attendance and engagement. In the letter announcing the grant distribution, the Education Department suggests states and subgrantees focus on grade-level practices that are inclusive and support family engagement, as well as on partnerships between schools and community organizations.
The allocation of $50 million may not seem like a lot compared to the $1.3 billion FY 2022 budget for the 21st Century program, but the extra revenue has the potential to make positive impacts, said Adam Schott, deputy assistant secretary for the Education Department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"Every dollar counts. It matters for an individual kid. It matters for an individual classroom. And again, we're urging states and districts and schools to urgently spend their American Rescue Plan funds. These dollars can help ARP funds go even further and reach more kids," Schott said.
In FY 2021, the Education Department made 52 awards under 21st Century averaging $24.2 million, according to the agency's website.
The additional $50 million can be used for a broad range of out-of-school activities that meet 21st Century requirements, such as tutoring, summer programming and mentoring.
According to the Afterschool Alliance, in spring 2021, 94% of 21st Century programs provided homework or academic help, and 91% supported STEM learning opportunities.
Funding for the program, however, has not kept up with demand, the alliance said. Adjusted for inflation, the current funding level falls $87 million below the 2014 level, allowing only 1.6 million children to participate. The alliance estimates that 25 million children aren't participating in an afterschool program, but would be if a program were available to them.
The letter urged states to prioritize evidence-based practices for middle and high school student attendance and engagement in their next 21st Century grant requests.
The Education Department suggests schools explore ways to raise student engagement and attendance with these recommendations:
- Provide a welcoming, safe and inclusive environment. Partnerships with community-driven programs and mental health providers can help students feel empowered regarding their mental, social and emotional needs.
- Connect with families. Gathering input from families and meeting outside traditional formats, including virtually, can contribute to positive communications and relationships. Other proactive efforts include offering home visits and using text messages to promote attendance
- Promote stronger alignment between school-day and out-of-school services. Approaches used typically during the school day, such as multi-tiered systems of support, can also be incorporated into after-school programming to better integrate academic, mental health and behavioral supports.
- Implement trauma-informed approaches. To promote a sense of safety, trust and transparency, the Education Department recommends resources from the department's National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments that can be adapted for 21st Century programs. Additionally, the You for Youth (Y4Y) website offers supports for staff working in these programs.
- Establish mentoring programs. Supportive relationships can help students gain resilience and increase mental well-being and academic development. They can also strengthen family-school connections.