My recap of the proposed policy: "How do we open as many doors as possible for schools to access the funds currently designated for after school programs?" My conclusion - if passed in any iteration being considered, community youth programs will have even less access to public support than they have now.
Harsh criticism I know, but it is hard not to get angry when the only specified source of federal funding through education for community youth programs is being compromised. In a Washington Post blog, Jodi Grant from the Afterschool Alliance gives her take on the diversion of afterschool policy by the current administration in "The secret war on afterschool programs."
What the policy revisions left me wondering was this: Where are the voices for the kids and practitioners in our community who know the distinct value of youth programs and can go head-to head with the politicos and expose how our children only lose more ground in this new scenario? Who needs to talk to whom? And how do we change the debate in this particular policy and the many other similar debates that pit after school and school day against each other?
I would argue that until we see after-school learning as distinct and of equal importance, any policy that connects the two will continually favor the education giant -- K-12 schools.
For me, school and after-school, in spite of the words shared in their titles, do not represent the same kind of learning. Each has distinct purposes that are important to the development and learning of our young people. There is a great deal of literature and research that supports those distinctions and it is faulty thinking to confuse the two as one and the same.
Formal education (aka school) has a tremendous amount of research, policy, resources, infrastructure and public support and yes, it still has enormous challenges. The nonformal learning environments (aka afterschool) also have a great deal of research. What after school does not have is significant federal support, state and federal infrastructure, consistent local, state and federal policy - and unsurprisingly it also has challenges.
But they are very different challenges. One of the biggest challenges in after school is access for youth who want and need it. The current 21st Century policy gives children access to programs that need it most. So why do we have to pit school against after school in our choices for federal funding by further blurring the lines? Placing these very different learning environments in the same policy makes it impossible not to do so.
The Washington Post has a blog and an article on the issue - I have posted my thoughts, what will you post? Last month, two of my colleagues here at Minnesota Extension spoke at a US Senate briefing on afterschool in rural communities and the benefits of 4-H. Who else do we need to talk to? Let's speak up about this! Perhaps if we blow up a blog with comments, Washington will notice that this is an issue we pay attention to in Minnesota.