As the school year wraps up and summer begins, out-of-school time providers in our nation’s communities are transitioning from comprehensive afterschool to summer learning and enrichment programs. Along with the shift in programs, providers are also shifting from afterschool snacks and meals to summer meals. This summer, program providers will continue to navigate challenges related to the pandemic while also working to access new federal COVID-19 relief funding that can support out-of-school time programming.
Anti-hunger advocates have long been important partners and allies of summer and afterschool program providers, recognizing the important role these programs serve in providing nutritious meals as well as supporting student success through educational and enrichment activities. Afterschool and summer learning programs keep young people safe, inspire them to learn, and give working parents peace of mind.
Too Many Children are Missing Out
Prior to the pandemic, close to 8 million young people in kindergarten through 12th grade were in afterschool programs where they had the opportunity to engage in academically enriching activities, access nutritious meals or snacks, take part in physical activities, build friendships, gain confidence, learn how to make responsible decisions, and seek advice and support from caring adults and mentors. However, too many children are missing out. For every child in a program, three are waiting to get in — and a record 25 million students would participate if a program were accessible to them.
Nationwide, 7.7 million children are on their own between 3 and 6 p.m., largely due to barriers around the cost and availability of afterschool programs. Expanding access to out-of-school time programs creates a foundation for meals to be served to students who are in need of increased access to nutritious meals when school is out and to academic, social, and emotional support systems that promote learning and enrichment.
During the pandemic, many afterschool and summer programs have been instrumental partners for schools and families. These programs remained connected to their students, complemented school-day lessons, and provided essential support for families.
Earlier this year, however, 3 in 4 programs reported that they are at risk of laying off staff or closing. Navigating recovery legislation and advocating for investments at the state and local level will be critical for the survival of these essential programs. Program providers remain concerned for the nation’s young people and what they have missed already and going forward. In out-of-school time programs, children and youth get time with friends and mentors, hands-on learning, creative enrichment and expression, a chance to lead, explore and create without stress. That space has been dramatically altered and even taken away in some communities.
The American Rescue Plan Provides Critical Investments
The positive news is that Congress and the Administration recognized the importance of summer and afterschool programs in passing the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, which was signed into law in March 2021 and includes funding that can be used to support and expand out-of-school time programs for young people, with an emphasis on those most impacted by the pandemic. The American Rescue Plan provides $122 billion for pre-K–12 schools, including funding that can be accessed by out-of-school time programs through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund:
- $1.22 billion (1 percent of overall ESSER funding in ARP) to state education agencies that must be set aside for summer enrichment;
- $1.22 billion (1 percent of overall ESSER funding in ARP) to state education agencies that must be set aside for comprehensive afterschool programs;
- $6.18 billion (5 percent of overall ESSER funding in ARP) for learning recovery interventions such as comprehensive afterschool, summer learning, or enrichment activities, and extended-day or extended-school-year; and
- $22 billion provided to local education agencies for learning recovery interventions, such as comprehensive afterschool, summer learning or enrichment activities, and extended-day or extended-school-year.
Additionally child care funding, AmeriCorps funds, and state and local fiscal relief funds can be used to support out-of-school time programs.
At the state and local level, how these funds are used is at the discretion of state and local education officials and varies considerably across the country. State education agencies had until June 7, 2021, to submit a state ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) plan to the federal Department of Education, describing how they would use these funds; however, many states were granted extensions. Advocates, including those at the 50 statewide afterschool networks, are working hard to seize the opportunities presented by the new funding and are working in a coalition to make the case for robust, evidence-based out-of-school time programs centered around school and community partnerships. To date, there are several examples of how state-level set-aside funding is being used to support summer enrichment, comprehensive afterschool, and learning recovery programs. While some states have used set-aside dollars to establish competitive grant programs that fund local community-based afterschool and summer learning programs, other states have allocated the summer and afterschool set-aside funding directly to school districts. Funding from the bill can be spent until September 2023 or early fall 2024 in states granted a one-year waiver.
A Historic Expansion of Out-of-school Time Programs is Possible
With the potential of $30 billion going to support local afterschool and summer learning programs, a historic expansion of out-of-school time programs is possible. The growth in programs represents an opportunity to close opportunity gaps and serve nutritious meals to young people in need. Anti-hunger partners can work with their statewide afterschool network to leverage the Summer Food Service Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program At-Risk Afterschool Meal Program to ensure local programs have the support, training, and technical assistance they need to operate effective meal and enrichment programs in the summer and after school.
Equally important is building the infrastructure and partnerships that are necessary to sustain the out-of-school time programs after the ARP and other COVID-19 relief funding has been exhausted. Consider connecting with your statewide afterschool network, local out of school time providers, and state agencies to support these efforts.